Having been lucky enough to report from three Olympic Games, it brought me face to face with some of Ireland’s top individual sportsmen and women, literally. And as a journalist always on the hunt for a story, it wasn’t difficult to find one at an Olympics. From the ecstasy to the agony, hugs to tears, broadcast interviews with individual sportspeople at the peak or nadir of their indulgence are often gripping.

Think of the boxers, the rowers, the athletes and the swimmers that you’ve heard interviewed over the years. They are in a different league to the seasoned team players we hear week in, week out in the worlds of GAA, soccer and rugby. Individuals have nowhere to hide if they have a bad day. You get the raw emotion pre and post battle. With team sports, it must be to do with that old fear of saying something to rile up the opposition that suppresses any sliver of heartfelt opinion from their media interactions, those that are permitted to interact that is. That is not to say it is the case in all team sports. It is the slick elite programmed teams that are most mundane. Breakthrough teams such as the Irish women’s hockey team of recent years or the underdog GAA team or soccer minnow can give us gems of emotion filled sound bites.

Amber Barrett’s post match interview following the Republic of Ireland women’s historic qualification for the world cup last week was one such case. A Donegal native and the hero of the hour, her measured, perfectly pitched post match comments in the aftermath of the drama on the field and in the shadow of the Creeslough tragedy could not have been scripted or delivered any more succinctly. It is interactions between the sports person and the viewer at home via the interviewer’s microphone that creates a bond and a link between star and fan. It can be what will make the “Reeling in the Years” episodes of the future.

What happened in the dressing room cast a cloud over the victory but without wanting to revisit that unfortunate episode, it is important to focus on the response of the team coach Vera Pauw. Unlike many male counterparts, she didn’t try to deflect. Her apology on behalf of her team was a lesson to all of us, be it in sport or politics or life in general in how to recognise a wrong and confront it without gloss. Instead of shining in the afterglow of a momentous occasion, she was faced with questions from the plethora of follow up media interviews about the immediate post match revelry. She didn’t sigh, or make excuses. And she even went further. In an interview with Newstalk’s Nathan Murphy for “Off the ball” broadcast 24 hours later, after an initial handful of questions on the issue, he found himself understandably almost apologising for needing to ask those questions to which Pauw replied that he was right to ask the questions, that it would be wrong not ?to. It was a refreshing approach to confronting a wrong which more managers and coaches could learn from in their attempts to shield their players from undue attention.

Vera Pauw’s response to the furore was pitch perfect and a refreshing departure from the usual deflection tactics which sports managers default to when confronted with hard questions. Sports people are big influencers and role models. We look up to them so it is important too that they teach us how to be humble, reflective and apologetic when appropriate.

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