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comment Time for the GAA to promote their sports through their players – and not have them gagged by county bosses

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Action from last year: referee Seán Hurson and players on the pitch after the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 1 match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin in January 2020. Photo by Ray McManus / Sportsfile

Action from last year: referee Seán Hurson and players on the pitch after the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 1 match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin in January 2020. Photo by Ray McManus / Sportsfile

Action from last year: referee Seán Hurson and players on the pitch after the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 1 match between Dublin and Kerry at Croke Park in Dublin in January 2020. Photo by Ray McManus / Sportsfile

Olympic-bound marathon runner Stephen Scullion regaled us for 27 minutes this week with deeply personal stories about his mental health struggles and decision to quit drinking last Christmas.

It was a searing and brutally honest account of his life.

Granted the Belfast native is not your typical sporting interviewee. He is gold dust. No subject is off limits and his anecdotes always make compelling listening.

One thing for sure, there is no chance of him ever saying ‘we have to put our shoulder to the wheel’ a phrase so beloved by one high-profile GAA player.

Anyway, the encounter got me thinking about memorable GAA interviews I have done. Very few remain etched in the memory bank.

A chat with Joe Brolly – long, long before he was famous – while sitting on a bench at College Park in Trinity College. His ambition then was to see a GAA game played there.

A heart-rending talk with Donegal’s 1992 All-Ireland-winning full-back Matt Gallagher in the bed and breakfast business he then ran in Bundoran, during which he recalled the death of his brother in a car accident in the United States.

An interview with the then Wexford hurling boss Liam Griffin in the Ferrycarrig Hotel – which he owned – before the team played Offaly in the 1995 Leinster final. I came away convinced there was no way Wexford, who hadn’t won a provincial title for 19 years, could lose.

Finally, two round-table press conferences – the first with Clare hurling boss Ger Loughnane at the team press night before the 1995 All-Ireland final and the second with Donegal boss Jim McGuinness before the start of the 2013 Ulster championship.

I regret now that I didn’t keep the tapes.

Aside from those examples, any chats with the late Eamon Coleman, Sean Boylan, though we did have one spectacular falling-out – my fault entirely – John O’Mahony, John Maughan, Paddy Cullen, Pat O’Neill, Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Davy Fitzgerald and one-time Down hurling manager Sean McGuinness was time well spent.

One of the upsides of the absence of live inter-county GAA for seven months last year and four this year is that I had an opportunity to interview sportspeople from other sports, ranging from diving to ice skating to gymnastics and many others.

It was a refreshing experience to talk to them as they were more than willing to shoot the breeze.

These days interviewing the majority of GAA players and in particular, managers, is about as pleasurable as a visit to the dentist.

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I have lost count of the number of times I have cursed whoever invented the term ‘control the controllables’.

It has given GAA team managers the perfect excuse to dictate the terms of how their players interact with the media.

On All-Ireland final days I always smile when the All-Ireland winners from 25 years previous to that year are introduced.

Not only do I instantly recognise most of the players, I’d know a fair few of them and might even have their phone numbers.

Not so with the current players. Not alone would I not have their telephone number, I would scarcely recognise many of them – particularly the hurlers.

I wonder though are players missing out by not engaging in any meaningful fashion with the media.

Ironically, they are the most educated and articulate group of players ever in the history of the GAA, yet their voices are so rarely heard.

Ok we get the soundbites which have been dictated by the team management. But we never never find out much about their backstories or what makes them tick.

Their scrapbooks will look very bare when their careers are over.

The majority of players will never win an All-Ireland medal – indeed all but a handful have no chance of ever gracing All-Ireland final day. Yet they allow their terms of engagement to be totally dictated by a team manager.

At official level the GAA shrug their shoulders when the issue is raised. They are full of sympathy for our plight but won’t do anything about it.

GAA players are amateurs and cannot be compelled to give interviews. But actually, they’re not strictly amateurs – they receive an annual stipend courtesy of the taxpayer.

Maybe a condition of the grant is that they agree to do a couple of interviews every year.

I smile nowadays when I encounter ex-GAA players in press boxes all over the country. A fair few of them would scarcely bid you the time of day when they were playing and now, they are earning a crust in journalism.

It’s a funny old world.

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