Thursday, December 19, 2019

By John Foley

Oscar Wilde once mused that “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

So with that in mind perhaps it’s no bad thing that The Nationalist was mentioned in some of the reports presented to the annual Carlow GAA Convention at the Seven Oaks on Friday evening.

In his report, operations manager Ronan Dempsey wrote that there has been “a marked increase in criticism of Carlow GAA across various platforms” in 2019, going on to say that “club members, supporters and GAA ‘bystanders’ alike feel it most acceptable to verbally abuse and constantly criticise these volunteers” who are working for the cause that is Carlow GAA.

He went on to reprimanded The Nationalist.

“Even our local newspaper, to which we provide an inordinate amount of free content almost weekly throughout the year, feels it acceptable to criticise the volunteer work of the executive on a regular basis, often inaccurately.”

The suggestion that an executive should be above criticism of any kind is ludicrous, if not a little worrying. The fact that someone does not receive payment for a job, and is therefore a volunteer, does not mean their decisions should never be questioned.

In fact, to suggest such a thing is to insult the work they are doing in the first place. It implies a certain “sure we’re only doing our best” mentality which, you can be certain, does not enter the head of anyone on the county GAA committee who works hard to develop Gaelic games in the county.

It’s entirely appropriate that decisions are scrutinised and held to account, particularly for a sporting association which extends down every byroad and into every townland in the county.

Criticisms which appear in the paper from time to time very often reflect those of club members around the county, people who are themselves volunteers. Would it be better if we did not give such criticisms a platform for fear that we are stepping on the toes of other volunteers?

One of the primary reasons for a newspaper is to reflect the opinions of a wide range of people on a wide range of issues.

It is curious that the operations manager believes Carlow GAA provides “an inordinate amount of free content almost weekly throughout the year”.

After racking our brains to figure out how we are provided with free content, we can only come up with the fact that this newspaper attends games around the county every week of the year. The newspaper pays reporters and photographers to report on games and we also rely on the excellent work of many volunteer PROs in clubs all around the county who see the benefit of their club getting as much coverage as possible.

As for The Nationalist’s reporters and photographers, are we to be thankful that we are allowed in the gates? Well, if that’s what is required, thank you very much. As holders of national GAA passes, that right is guaranteed by Croke Park.

And for the record, as sports editor I have never been contacted by the current executive regarding an inaccuracy. As a newspaper we are happy to clarify or correct anything we get wrong. That such a request has never been made is far more telling than a vague accusation in a report designed purely to undermine our work, which is always done in good faith.

The idea that so-called “free content” goes in one direction is misguided, to say the least. The media’s coverage of Carlow GAA teams, both club and county, is paid back in multiples when it comes to benefits like sponsorship. Whether it’s the name Netwatch Cullen Park, or the varied jersey sponsors who gain exposure in the media because they are supporting clubs, the coverage The Nationalist gives has always been and will continue to be hugely beneficial to how Carlow GAA does business.

It is also worth noting that the GAA is very aware of the benefits of extensive media coverage. In the recent debate over the introduction of the Tier 2 All-Ireland football championships, it was frequently argued that a big factor in its potential success would be buy-in from the media. In an increasingly competitive sporting environment, it’s ironic that the sport which attracts the largest amount of interest and coverage is also the one which sees fit to complain about it.

It was equally ironic that in the very same week the operations manager gave this report, the organising committee of next February’s Carlow GAA awards sent out letters to their potential sponsors, highlighting the fact that for their support of €250 they will receive “maximum publicity” in The Nationalist!

So here we are, being pushed away with one hand while being pulled closer with the other.

Or maybe it’s a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

In light of all this, it was incredibly disappointing to hear Sean Campion, in his chairman’s address to Convention on Friday evening, suggest there may soon be a time when members of the press will no longer be allowed to attend Carlow GAA county committee meetings throughout the year.

The chairman argued that some issues are not debated as thoroughly as he might like at meetings because, in his opinion, delegates fear they will be quoted in the paper the following week.

The importance of free, fair and accurate reporting of meetings, including Carlow GAA meetings, is a hugely important service. It is vitally important that GAA club members see how and why decisions are made and the reasoning behind those decisions. Such reporting actually helps to build trust in an institution, be it a court, a council or a sporting organisation.

About a decade ago, a similar motion came before delegates at a county committee meeting. At that time, the late Paudie Doyle from Rathvilly took the floor and quickly dismissed the suggestion that the media should not be allowed to report on Carlow GAA meetings. He said that Carlow GAA and its members had nothing to hide and nothing to fear and that’s how it would remain.

The motion was not supported by delegates who recognised it would be a retrograde step.

The decade is ending and it has been a decade with far more ups than downs for Carlow GAA. For example, the level of organisation in coaching has risen to unprecedented levels thanks to the work of the expanding network of Games Development Administrators. The county teams have given local supporters some unforgettable days, including Joe McDonagh and Christy Ring Cup wins and national league promotions. The hosting of Féile tournaments has allowed Carlow to show itself to the country in a hugely positive light.

Those great days have always been reflected in the newspaper. Some might have you believe otherwise, but the vast majority of GAA coverage is positive in tone, and rightly so. To copperfasten our support we even saw fit to sponsor the new cup for the Carlow senior football championship two years ago.

There is so much to be proud of. A glance back to recent weeks and our coverage of the wonderful Leinster club championship campaigns of St Mullins and Éire Óg are cases in point.

As 2020 approaches, we look forward to many more great days for Carlow GAA and we look forward to going along for that journey. Every single step of the way.

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