The first rule in PR crisis management is to know the issue. In terms of preparation, you tick all the boxes in research, context, history etc. When crisis occurs people feel the need to rush in and instantly respond, which more often than not backfires. It’s a concept that Jim Gavin has failed to grasp over the course of his reign.
This is not to suggest this is some spectacular failure on Gavin’s part. He is an incredibly talented manager, who is articulate, if not a tad reliant on jargon, in his dealings with the press. To advise he should recruit the assistance of a PR agency, a process the Clare hurling management have employed, is imprecise.
But in his reaction to a series of controversies involving his players his statements have done neither himself nor the game any favours.
The most discussed incident involves James McCarthy. During Dublin’s league game versus Donegal, McCarthy was sent off and one incident in particular has received significant attention. In the process of deliberately interfering with an opponent’s face, McCarthy’s hand came into contact with Martin McElhinney’s eye, which has led to some allegations of eye-gouging.
In a situation like this, Gavin has two genuine options. Either take the normal route and defend your player to the hilt, or the unique but welcomed option of admitting your player’s fault. Either of these options would squash oncoming speculation and control the message in the media.
Instead, Gavin prefixed his opinion with the following sentence: “I haven’t seen the tape.” That would have been enough. He’d just said that they’d have to look back and see why McCarthy was dismissed. He could and should have left it there.
But he continued (via Newstalk):
“To suggest there is something malicious in it isn’t a very fair question.”
Gavin later suggested, “it wouldn’t be in the player’s character.”
The question that irked such a response was Dave McIntyre’s statement that “the slow-motion does not look good from James’ point of view and we appreciate that anything in slow-motion can often make a situation look worse than it is.”
McIntyre then asked: “You would look at all of these things yourself, would you?”
For the sake of the player, Gavin could have deflected it. We are consistently told that GAA personal are now dull due to the increase of media training, this was a chance to deploy said training. Instead Gavin rushed in firing on all cylinders before he’s even reviewed the tape.
It’s a blatant cry to his players, and worse the public, that regardless of the infraction ‘I’m going to defend you to the hilt’.
By purely stating he hadn’t seen it, Gavin would have remained non-committal. By using this as his introduction, Gavin compromised any opinion that would follow.
Eventually he had to fall back on the hollow defence of “he’s not that kind of player.”
In a similarly ill-advised move, Gavin faced criticism for his response to the serious facial injuries his player Davey Byrne suffered before a challenge match against Armagh last year.
Again speaking to Newstalk’s Off The Ball, Gavin said it was a “regrettable incident that shouldn’t have happened.”
Describing it, Gavin stated: “regrettably an incident took place before our recent challenge game against Armagh,” before explaining “subsequent to the game, both players have spoken to each other and they regret what happened.”
Gavin went on to say “they regret what happened, they’ve had a frank discussion” or some minor variation on this statement repeatedly during the interview. The mass mishandling of the situation was magnificently exposed. It was an ill-advised interview that did nothing for his player or the game.
He had the chance of opting for the trusted technique of side-stepping the issue, a dissolute tactic but defensive one, or the far more moral, yet ill-advisable, option of admitting a grave infraction. Gavin opted to awkwardly blunder into the issue and paint nobody involved in a favourable light.
After the semi-final draw with Mayo last year, Diarmuid Connolly appealed his red card after getting involved in an off the ball incident with Lee Keegan.
Dublin successfully appealed the decision. To many this undermined the disciplinary process and demonstrated a serious flaw in the system. Rather than defend his player, or remain evasive, Gavin told the Irish Independent:
“We just engaged with the process, it’s there for us, it’s there for any team to use and that’s what we did.”
This merely reinforced the view that the process was flawed and actually strengthened the view that Connolly was guilty.
The natural reaction isn’t to increase media training, or to stop talking to Off The Ball, it’s to consider the issue and not react on impulse.
Significant mismanagement of these issues can lead to bigger issues in the dressing room. At the very least they will be exhibited and used as sticks to beat them with should Dublin’s form dip. Many will grab this major incapability and use it as some sort of explanation should that happen.
Gavin is doing himself no favours in the media. He could opt for honesty, aggression, non-committal or silence. Instead he opts for an abysmal mishmash of them all.
Maurice Brosnan, Pundit Arena