THE BUILD-UP to the All-Ireland football final replay has been muted this week given what’s at stake tomorrow night. 

James McCarthy and Tommy Walsh shake shands after the game.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Both Dublin and Kerry opted not to hold a press night for the rematch – despite attempts from Croke Park’s top brass to convince them otherwise. It meant there have been no fresh quotes from players doing the rounds in print or online this week.

Of course, it’s up to individual counties whether they want to engage in media duties ahead of a final replay. Most of the time, it’s a call made by the managers involved.

After the 2012 and 2013 drawn hurling deciders, players and management from Kilkenny, Galway, Clare and Cork all attended media events prior to the respective rematches. In 2014, Brian Cody and Eamon O’Shea fulfilled press duties ahead of the hurling replay.

In 2016, Mayo management and players spoke to journalists at Croke Park after the football final finished level and held their press night on 20 September. Dublin had one too, with Jim Gavin and Eoghan O’Gara attending a press conference at the Gibson Hotel two days before the 1 October sequel.

Eoghan O’Gara chats to the media ahead of the 2016 final replay.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Things have changed since. 

This time around, Dublin didn’t even release Jack McCaffrey to speak with the GAA’s broadcast partners to receive his man of the match award after the drawn game. He instead got his award from GAA president John Horan behind closed doors.

Dublin made it known that Gavin would be their only representative available to conduct post-game interviews with media afterwards. Dublin opted to release their own five-minute in-house interview with the manager this week, mirroring a tactic that Joe Schmidt sometimes employs as Ireland rugby manager.

So it means that this week’s papers and websites have been filled with speculation from pundits and former players. Will Eoin Murchan start instead of Michael Darragh Macauley with James McCarthy moving to midfield? Will Kerry throw in Tommy Walsh from the start? Will former Footballers of the Year James O’Donoghue or Bernard Brogan make their respective 26-man squads?

It makes quite the contrast from the last football final replay three years ago. In the two-week gap between the final and replay, the term ‘media mafia’ was born.

Diarmuid Connolly tries to shake off Lee Keegan in the drawn 2016 final.

Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Cast your mind back to the drawn 2016 final between Mayo and Dublin on a rain-sodden afternoon at Croke Park. Mayo scored two own goals in a helter-skelter encounter. The stand-out images are of Lee Keegan and Diarmuid Connolly engaging in wrestling matches off the ball at the peak of their rivalry.

In the build-up to the replay, the ‘Dublin media mafia’ mobilised – or so it appeared. One by one, former Sky Blues players came out and drew attention to Connolly’s ripped shirt caused by the Westport defender.

They all seemed to be on message.

Paul Clarke: “I watched the game from Hill 16 and I saw a lot of off-the-ball stuff going on – cynical stuff. I actually think Lee is conceding his footballing ability by pulling and dragging rather than pitching himself against him as a footballer. With the two of them it just seems to descend into a wrestling match all the time.”

Paul ‘Pillar’ Caffrey: “With a change of referee, there’s a bigger emphasis on him. I hope Dublin have a stronger set of jerseys in the bag for next week. They seemed to rip very easy last week.”

Alan Brogan: “Lee Keegan sacrificed his own game to try and nullify Diarmuid Connolly. Lee is getting away with more than he should be but he and his team-mates will do what it takes.”

Ciaran Whelan: “Generally, are forwards going out to instigate incidents like that? No, the forward is trying to play football and the defender is trying to stop him playing football and he’s doing it probably in an over-aggressive manner. That’s where the other officials have to come in.”

Ger Brennan: “If he played a bit closer to the Mayo goalmouth for a couple of minutes, maybe Keegan mightn’t get away with as much of the pulling and dragging, which I’m fine with too as a back. If you can get away with it, go for it! If someone is constantly pulling and dragging at you and the umpires or referees aren’t going to take some sort of action. Eventually you have to stand your own ground.”

The comments were digested by GAA supporters across the country, but the real target was Maurice Deegan and his team of officials for the replay.

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Infuriated by the war waged against their star man, Mayo fans and former players bit back. Mikey Conroy and Trevor Mortimer had a pop at the ex-Dublin stars, while the rather entertaining hashtag #ThingsLeeDid started trending on Twitter. 

They reckon he nailed Jesus Christ to the cross while on a FÁS course in carpentry #ThingsLeeDid #mayogaa

— Stephen Padden (@S_padden) September 28, 2016

It's been discovered, Lee Keegan was the real instigator behind the Zidane headbutt on Materazzi #ThingsLeeDid

— bryan mcginty (@askillb) September 28, 2016

Lee Keegan caused the Potato Famine #ThingsLeeDid #mayogaa

— Trevor Naughton (@trevornaughton) September 28, 2016

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Whatever way you look at it, it’s hard to argue that shining the spotlight on Keegan had no effect. Keegan scored an early goal in the replay, but his day was cut short in the 36th minute when he dragged down Connolly after a short kick-out went astray. Maurice Deegan correctly produced a black card.

That December in his county convention report, Mayo PRO Paul Cunnane said that “there was a well-orchestrated media campaign to blacken Lee Keegan’s name.”

He added: “I would be disappointed that many media outlets chose to take the bait in the lead-up to the replay.”

Maurice Deegan black cards Lee Keegan.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Aidan O’Mahony were accused of engaging in a similar propaganda war by putting pressure on David Gough two weeks ago.

Whelan even wrote in his column: “A few former Kerry footballers laced up the boots one more time and pulled on the famous green and gold jersey to answer their county’s call when expressing the opinion that they felt Meath referee David Gough should not be the man with the whistle on Sunday 1 September.”

The narrative quickly gained traction that a ‘Kerry media mafia’ were engaging in a concerted campaign, similar to Dublin’s in 2016. Aidan O’Mahony laughed off that suggestion in the days before the final.

“It was just me being asked a question, I answered it and I think Eamonn Fitzmaurice gave his opinion as well,” he said. “It isn’t that we’re on a WhatsApp group saying, ‘I’ll put something up now and you put something up later’.”

Like Deegan, Gough had little choice but to give Jonny Cooper his marching orders for his foul on David Clifford when he was already booked.

But Joe Brolly saw it differently and suggested on RTÉ’s half-time coverage that Gough “has clearly been influenced by the propaganda coming from Kerry”. He later retracted those comments and was dropped from the national broadcaster’s coverage of the replay.

The conspiracy theorists, meanwhile, declared it a victory for the ‘Kerry media mafia’ in punditry’s phoney war.

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