Billy Keane: Recollecting great deeds is only for the retiring types
Published 28/12/2013 | 02:30
I've heard stories of competitive men and women who dislocated arms from their sockets while pulling a Christmas cracker. Ah, but I have to tell you this one first before we go on. It came straight out of a cracker.
'Why did the man get fired from the orange juice factory? Because he couldn't concentrate.'
The people who write Christmas cracker jokes have the toughest job of all. For production reasons the jokes have to be made up in July when there's no Christmas spirit to tap into. It must be very hard for the jokers to get motivated.
I was reading the other day that Clare were training on Christmas Eve last year. Rumour has it Davy Fitz had the Clare lads at it on Christmas Day this year.
Up they went. Up the Hill of Tulla with an in-calf heifer on their backs. Off then abseiling on the Cliffs of Moher without an abseil. On then with their hi-viz jackets to go straightening the bends on Corkscrew Hill with a garden fork and the toy lorry borrowed from the young brother's stocking.
You'd often wonder if Davy isn't at some sort of mind games. If you keep putting it out there that the lads are fitter than fleas, then everyone will start to believe it and somewhere deep in the opposition subconsciousness will be the feeling that the Clare boys will outlast us.
And how do you motivate the lads to get all excited about hurling at Christmas when the championship isn't rightly under way until mid June?
You get the impression Davy is sending messages into his player's heads that last year's medal needs another for matching up with, like the porcelain mallards you see flying over the mantelpiece in the one spot. There are always two or even three.
Davy will tell his boys that the recollection of great deeds in sport is for the days of retirement, when the wrinkled leather belt is holed on the tip of the tongue with knitting needles and the old days are as far away as another life. Top sports people live their youths in middle age and later on than that.
And as we are on the topic of the passing years, for the first and only time in the history of this column, I will send birthday greetings. Retired Garda Aidan Murphy, or O Murchu, is three score today.
He's a neighbour and a staunch friend who has done so much unheralded good, particularly for those coming and going from hospitals. He's a proud Kerryman living in Dublin and every day he is reminded of Dublin's great feats. But can the Dubs do it again this year? Only two teams have won back-to-back football All-Irelands in the last 32 years.
Pat Gilroy had the Dubs out training at all hours of the morning. Again the message was sent in and out. In to his players' metabolic memory and out to the world at large that Dublin were preparing harder than anyone else. His successor Jim Gavin kept it going.
Dublin outstayed Kerry and held their own with a very fit Mayo team. Players need winter in the legs to get through the summer and early autumn.
Your average inter-county midfielder travels about 10km in big games and half of that is at high intensity, according to a brilliant study from Cork's Aidan O'Connell on gaa.ie.
Mick O'Dwyer may not have known the science but he knew long winter gallops on the Curragh would make Kildare into the fittest team in Gaelic football. That was back in the late '90s. His team won their first Leinster title in years and were unlucky not to win an All-Ireland.
He knew too that the memories of those long runs would spur on his players when the game was entering those last few crucial minutes. Micko's plan was to go at it from the start and keep on at the same pace until the final whistle.
Young lads make so many sacrifices. An old All-Ireland winner told me one time he lost his youth to Gaelic football. Yes there are the highs of winning and the banter at training. Your boy is reared by his coaches. They mould him into whatever he has to be to win an All-Ireland. His whole outlook on life will be changed. Mentally he will be a different person at the end of his career.
So many retired players develop drink problems. We badly need a proper academic study into the causes and cures. The tradition is to binge drink on specified dates in between big games. There will be no going out with the lads, chasing girls and drinking pints on balmy summer nights. Or heading off backpacking in places you'll never get to see when you're all mortgaged up. It's a choice players make. I would say most are happy they made the right choice.
As former All-Ireland winners, Davy and Jim know most teams have lost the two-in-a-row ever before a ball was kicked or a sliotar pucked. There are celebrations and the demands to open this and close that and to bring the cup here and yourself with it.
Then you're hero whipped by men and women twice your age and before the winter is out you begin to believe that all you have to do is show up and glory will be there waiting for you with a laurel garland.
As we keep reminding you, these are young lads we are talking about, not wise old men with decades of life experiences to draw from. Yet we measure our sports people against the owners of accumulated wisdom.
The Roman poet Juvenal wrote the oft quoted words mens sana in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body) and here is his famous line in the context in which it was written.
'You should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body
ask for a stout heart that has no fear of death
and deems length of days the least of Nature's gifts
that can endure any kind of toil,'
Wouldn't Juvenal's advice make for a sound new year's resolution?