As Éamonn Fitzmaurice bowed out last Saturday as Kerry senior football manager, he referred to one of the less savoury aspects of walking a summer sideline with BAINISTEOIR on your back.
“If things are going against the next man, there will be question marks, but it’ll be more muted,” said the Kerryman.
“It gets louder the longer you stay and I don’t like the way that was affecting the group. The players get [grief] in verbal form and written form. Players and management and selectors too. I have a box full of anonymous letters.”
In the age of social media and online harassment there’s something old-fashioned about the thought of someone taking the time to sit down and write a letter with a real pen and actual paper; a psychologist would no doubt have a field day with the added impact such missives have on their recipient, because of that very intimate touch.
Instant communication being available to all, personalising the abuse makes it all the more hurtful to the recipient, who knows the time required to put that individual stamp on the message.
Parking the obvious point, that such individuals are badly in need of clinical intervention, this is not a new development for hurlers and footballers, unfortunately.
Anthony Daly, who has managed the Clare and Dublin hurlers, spoke yesterday on thepodcast about the phenomenon and said he’d received plenty of abusive communications.
I did, yeah. I have to say straight out, not as bad in Dublin as when I managed Clare. Your own are nearly the worst in some ways.
“The thing about the Dublin hurling support was that they maybe knew where they were coming from. The year before I took over, Westmeath had knocked them out, and that’s no disrespect to Westmeath, but they were coming from a low enough base; there was talent there, but we were topsy-turvy. But I still got letters.
“In my Clare time, I’d get letters from a fella in Mayo, an expatriate from Clare and, by God... I remember saying it to Fr Harry [Bohan] one night, who’d managed Clare in the seventies, and he said, ‘Is that fella writing letters?’ I thought he was dead.’
Eventually, I looked him up in the phone book and I found this uniquely Clare name — I won’t say it, but it’s a prominent east Clare name. I rang and asked for him and said: ‘If you ever send a letter to my house again, I’llpersonally drive to Mayo and meet you at your front door, kid, because I’m only doing this for the love of it’.
Daly pointed out that there can be no shortage of verbal abuse either: “I got loads. You’d just be afraid for your family. I remember after we drew with Wexford in 2013, I’m not saying we got some criticism from The Sunday Game — we were so poor — but I said it to my wife and three girls: ‘If anyone says anything in the stands [at the replay], don’t take it personally, they just care about Dublin hurling, they’re not really having a go at your dad, they’re just passionate.’
“The girls were young, but after I asked the oldest one and she said: ‘No, dad, no-one said a thing.’ I suppose Clare had come off that period in the nineties when we’d been relatively successful in national terms, and in my time (managing] we had near misses, and I got a lot of letters around then. About 20% would put their names to them and a phone number.
"I remember ringing one guy and I had a great chat with him. A great chat. He said he just wanted to give me his couple of opinions and didn’t want to hide behind anything.
“A lot of it is cowardly stuff. You’d love a guy to ring you — it’s easy to get my number — and say: ‘I’m such and such. I think you’re getting it all wrong in midfield.’ You could debate that with someone, and they could be right. I’d always listen to someone if I thought it was relevant.
“I feel sorry for Éamonn. I saw him hurl for Lixnaw at centre-back and he was an inspiration, and a calm presence on that team. I was involved with Kilmoyley, but he was outstanding for them. I always admired him in his interviews; he got Kerry in a time of transition, but won six Munsters and an All-Ireland. They just expect to win everything, but he came in a time when Dublin had their best ever team.
To get abuse from your own like that... maybe Páidí wasn’t all wrong back then, the Lord have mercy on him.
Daly wasn’t the only one to think so. After Fitzmaurice’s revelation, many were reminded of one of his predecessor’s descriptions of Kerry supporters, the late Páidi Ó Sé’s reference to “the roughest type of fucking animals you could ever deal with”.
Ó Sé himself was on the receiving end of plenty of abuse in his time as Kerry manager. Writing in his autobiography, his nephew Tomás recalled his own debut for Kerry against Cork in 1998, when Páidí was managing the team. At half-time, Ó Sé junior was told he’d be coming off: “But after it, you had to walk from the dressing rooms in the corner of Killarney down the sideline, down the length of the stand, back to the dugout.
“The stuff that was roared at me and at PO, ‘throw on the mother altogether’, all that kind of stuff (PO himself turned around to me as we walked downalong, much as to say, ‘now would you look at what you’re after drawing on us’).”
No-one should be surprised by the level of vitriol then, nor the anger which still exists now.
Last December, Galway manager Micheál Donoghue was basking in the afterglow of a first All-Ireland for the county in three decades, won in swashbuckling style after collecting the league title and Leinster championship. Speaking at that time, however, Donoghue could recall the toxic response to the previous season. In 2016, Galway were relegated to the second tier in the National Hurling League and lost that year’s All-Ireland semi-final to Tipperary by a single point. The relegation, at home to Cork, had been particularly difficult for Donoghue to deal with.
“The reaction we got after that was phenomenal. I know people think that if you lose you are entitled to get the criticism, but we were getting phone calls, letters to the house, over the top. I remember two days, the day we got relegated, coming off the pitch, the personal verbal abuse. I don’t mind taking criticism, you have to when you are in the game.
But when someone comes in front of you and gives you personal abuse and starts insulting you and your family that’s a bit over the top.
The abuse isn’t confined to management either. Before serving as a selector with Waterford manager Derek McGrath, Dan Shanahan’s stellar career hit a speed bump when he and the other Waterford players ousted Justin McCarthy as manager in 2007. The big man from Lismore recalled a phone call around that time from the Waterford County Board.
“The chairman, Pat Flynn, said: ‘We have a letter here addressed to you, but I’d advise you not to open it. I’ll open it.’
“I told him to go ahead, and when he did, he said: ‘I’m not showing you what’s in this. It’s disgusting.’ A letter with a Kildare postmark.”
Shanahan also received abusive text messages and contacted the authorities: “I ended up going to the guards and the sergeant I spoke to asked if I wanted anything done. I said I just wanted to cover myself, but through another channel, I eventually tracked down the address of the person sending them, and then, of course, I knew who it was. I wasn’t the only one getting that kind of rubbish — Brick (Michael Walsh, Waterford player) was getting abusive texts, as well as (Waterford official) Jim Dee.”
Electronic or paper, there’s no place for it.