GAA fans have been asked to think twice before making hard hitting personal criticisms of players as the football and hurling championships gravitate towards Croke Park and the levels of expectation increase.
An escalating supply of coverage and the advent of social media have multiplied the focus on players and teams in recent years while prompting debates as to the level of inspection with which amateur players should reasonably have to contend with.
The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) addressed the issue two months ago when launching their www.wewearmore.ie[ mental health campaign: one designed to remind players and the general public that they amounted to more than just sportspeople.
The message has yet to reach everybody.
Cork’s defeat to Kerry in last month’s Munster football final resulted in a barrage of criticism for some of the losers’ players with a small minority of the contributions on social media plummeting to vitriolic levels.
“One of the issues is that the improvement in technology has enabled people to comment publicly,” said the GPA’s Sean Potts, “so there is an added tier to what had always existed which was a small group of people who feel that players are fair game.
We had two more teams (the Wexford and Dublin hurlers) who suffered fairly heavy losses at the weekend and you would hope that people would learn to be more responsible about what they say after what happened with the Cork lads.”
Potts added that no-one is “living in cloud cuckoo land”. Criticism comes with the territory that is elite sport, but he stressed the need for players to avoid social media before and after matches in order to dodge the so-called keyboard warriors.
Meath captain Kevin Reilly has seen the damage they can do.
The Navan O’Mahony’s veteran is a secondary schoolteacher in Bettystown and has witnessed first-hand the damage of cyber bullying. That same lack of a “filter” between players and supporters is an issue in the GAA.
Reilly has also had to contend with some forthright opinions made face-to-face, especially in recent weeks since Meath’s heavy loss to Dublin in the Leinster final. “Interesting conversations,” he called them. And brief.
No-one needed to tell him the Dublin display was below par. He spoke yesterday of the standards expected of players who wear the Meath jersey and admitted that his team hadn’t met them on this particular day.
“I spoke to ex-Meath players and they’d a good way of dealing with it. Without being personal, they said that it was a poor performance, it shouldn’t have happened, but it did, and it’s how you react to that. Okay, you’re criticising, but it’s almost constructive.
“These personal attacks on players, especially young players and inexperienced players or sensitive players, for want of a better word — in some cases there are — people might take that to heart.
“They might take it personally and it’s just not fair, especially as an amateur. You go back to work and you have to listen to this. This personal insult and criticisms of you as a person, don’t mind as a player, is so wrong.”
Reilly practised what he preached yesterday.
Paul Grimley was a selector with Meath under Seamus McEneaney and will manage the Armagh side facing them in Saturday’s All-Ireland qualifier, but the Meath man adhered to the maxim about saying nothing if there was nothing nice to say.
“Paul, I suppose, was in with Seamus, on and off, over the year,” said Reilly when asked about Grimley’s input at the time. “While he was with us he did his best to try and get the best out of us, I suppose.”
It was far from a ringing endorsement and a reply framed in even starker terms by his effusive praise for Grimley’s right-hand man Kieran McGeeney whom he knows from his days playing International Rules.
The central message remained undiluted. All four teams in action this Saturday – Meath, Armagh, Kildare and Monaghan – have had to contend with defeats and dissections of their failings. Collective and individual.
Two of those will have to contend with even more come Sunday and Reilly and Potts were both keen to stress the fact that players find it hard enough as it is to deal with defeats of such magnitude.
“It is. We have seen so many people coming out and speaking about mental health issues and it is great to see,” said Reilly. “I would definitely encourage people to keep doing it and keep dealing with it. It might not be a physical issue, but we all know that things can get to you. The pressures are there of 80,000 people shouting for you and at you. It can be tough to deal with at times, especially with a performance like ours the last day.”
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