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30th Jul 2016

#TheToughest Choice: Does pinning an article to the changing room wall actually work?

Has it ever happened to you?

Conan Doherty

When it comes to the GAA, honesty doesn’t always seem to be the best policy. Especially if you’re going to give the other team ammunition.

For generations, the vast majority of GAA players and managers have steadfastly stuck to a policy of refusing to say anything that could be deemed controversial about a rival.

Comments they make in public might differ drastically from their own personal opinions, but woe betide anyone who’s seen to be giving an opponent extra motivation or whose comments might end up (*cliché alert*) being pinned to the dressing room wall.

Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin took the opposite approach when offering his thoughts on Mayo this week, defying the traditional platitudes and, as some would see it, potentially giving Mayo an edge in the process. Listen to his comments below (from 11:44).

Some said they were stupid. You don’t say that in the build-up to a game. Others thought it was about time someone in the GAA spoke their minds.

So is the cliche just a myth? Or does pinning an article to the changing room wall to rile up your players actually work?

Conor Heneghan says: NO

Tom Cribbin managed to ruffle a few feathers this week simply by offering an honest, straight-up assessment of Westmeath’s opponents in the qualifiers this weekend.

It wasn’t as if he said anything out of the ordinary. You can listen to his comments in full here, but he basically said that, in their first year under a new manager and trying out a new system, that perhaps Mayo don’t know their best team yet. And that they’re not in the same league as Dublin.

99% of people reading those comments would be inclined to agree. I’m from Mayo and while I might suggest that “different league” is a bit of a harsh assessment of our status relative to that of the All-Ireland Champions, it would be because I’m extremely biased.

Otherwise, I think his comments were entirely fair.


The reason they ruffled a few feathers was because the sort of honestY shown by Cribbin is so rare.

Cribbin was supposed to talk up Mayo’s record in the last few years. He was supposed to refer to the fact that it’s a Division One team playing against a team that will be in Division Four next season. He was supposed to say that Mayo are raging hot favourites but that they’ll give it their best on the day and see what happens.

Instead, he said in public exactly what he would have been telling his players behind closed doors ever since the draw was made. That Mayo ARE vulnerable. That if Westmeath play like they did for 35 minutes against Dublin that they have a real chance.

And what is the harm in that?

Maybe Stephen Rochford will have Cribbin’s comments pinned to the wall of the dressing room in Croke Park but I very much doubt it.

Mayo are a very self-motivated bunch and the need to rely on fairly low-key comments from an opposition manager to increase their hunger for battle would point to a certain insecurity within the set-up.

But, hey, if it does give them an extra added edge, then so what? It makes it all the more interesting.


Give me players and managers putting opposition noses out of joint rather than bland platitudes any day. How entertaining would it be to see someone admit in a post-match interview that the comments of an opposition player or manager really p*ssed them off?

Instead, we’re left with the same, predictable old guff all the time.

Someday soon, in the Leinster Championship at least, Dublin manager Jim Gavin will probably say the words ‘insert team here’ as opposed to the name of a team Dublin have actually beaten by 20 points because he might as well be reading off the same script every time.

Granted, he doesn’t want to be disrespectful, but there’s a danger of being disingenuous if you’re seen to be saying things that the world and his mother can see are simply not true. And Gavin’s not the only one guilty, far from it.

I understand that, because of the culture in the GAA, you’re not likely to see players or managers indulging in the type of mind games that you regularly see in, for example, the Premier League.

You’re not going to get Rory Gallagher going all Kevin Keegan and saying ‘I’d love it if we beat them’ if Donegal and Tyrone were to meet again in this year’s Championship.

But let’s not discourage those who aren’t afraid to pull their heads out the sand and call it as they see it.

The more Tom Cribbins there are in the world of GAA, the better.

#TheToughest Choice: Does pinning an article to the changing room actually work?

Conán Doherty says: YES

Before I made the big scary move to Dublin, I was working away in the Derry Post – a predominantly GAA newspaper in… Derry.

It was difficult because I was playing GAA in Derry at the time so covering games and reporting on team mates and opposition players threw up plenty of interesting drama.

Myself and the sports editor – who also played for a local club team – had a nice agreement worked out: whenever we needed to preview one of our games, we would each write the preview for our respective clubs but put the other’s byline on it.

So ahead of a senior championship clash a few years back, the usual routine unfolded. I wrote up our preview, I put the other lad’s name on it, and I went on with my life.

I arrived at training on Tuesday though to a load of boys gathered around the end of the dressing room, fixated on something. A piece of paper was stuck to the wall. I approached with caution. Was the team already named? Were we divided into groups for training? Was the manager away off on a rant about something?

Then, it became clear. There it was. The article I had written about us under a pseudonym planted against the walls of our own changing room.


“He’s an idiot. I don’t know what he’s talking about.” I thought it was best to throw my colleague under the bus rather than face up to an angry mob of insulted players. “He hasn’t a clue.”

So we went out to the pitch and lads were knocking lumps out of one another. There was a real bite between the teeth and the manager’s job was done for him. He didn’t need to scowl, he didn’t even need to raise his voice. A local journalist (me) had written off their chances, “what are ye going to do about it?” And men were possessed for that week of training.

Jim McGuinness, in his four-year spell, has become one of the most legendary managers of all time. Read his book – it’s like he trawled column inches all over the country just looking for a few words that he could twist and put to his players. In a piece I wrote for the Derry Post at the time, I predicted Donegal would beat Derry but, after their hammering by Mayo the year previous, I said they are now beatable – and they’re only human.


He mentions it in his book. “Degrading”, he said. He put it to Karl Lacey. To Neil McGee (who snubbed me for an interview after they inevitably won). Jim McGuinness would suck motivation out of a Coco Pop if he could find it and he gobbles up newspaper articles for a snack.

And it worked.

It does work. It’s stupid, it’s immature, and managers and players should be able to say what they feel. But anything that makes the opposition more animal-like going into the game on Sunday is a bad thing. Us against the world, a siege mentality, they are all real psychological constructs.

They work. Rightly or wrongly, they work. 90 per cent of this game is played in the head.

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