Saturday 22 October 2016

Colm O'Rourke: Zombie strategy a dead end

Published 13/11/2011 | 05:00

When Abraham Lincoln made his famous speech about the abolition of slavery in 1858, he wanted unity in pursuit of this end. "A house divided against itself cannot stand," he said, and it seemed a bit like that in Donegal last week. Kevin Cassidy may have been slightly naive in some of his comments about Donegal's tactics this year, but since when is freedom of speech banned? Banishing him to Outer Mongolia seems a bit harsh.

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Donegal manager Jimmy McGuinness was less than impressed with the breaking of the code of omerta and has axed one of his main men. To most people this would appear to be an over-reaction, but if a manager wants to drop a player he needs for next year there is no better time to do it than when there are no games on. It is a long time till next May.

It's not the first time that Cassidy has walked the plank for alleged indiscipline, but a team has to accommodate many characters and sometimes widely different opinions on all sorts of matters. The best managers are comfortable with this so long as everyone pulls the same way when it counts.

That requires an iron will to succeed on the day of a game, but trying to control everything else is like doing you know what against the wind. Anything other than allowing, and even encouraging, players to be themselves off the pitch and to develop as responsible adults is taking things a bit far. Do we want to end up with teams of zombies? Maybe someone will develop a microchip the manager can put in his players' ears so that they all spout the same clichés and nobody is capable of original thoughts. If this is the road we want to go down then all forms of individualism will be wiped out. So much for educated players.

While other sports are opening up their dressing rooms and players to more interviews -- some probably going a bit far -- the GAA in Donegal are retreating back to the cold war days if they allow a player to be axed for comments which are, by and large, harmless.

Naturally, McGuinness does not want a light shone on his modus operandi. Neither would I if it was being publicised that players had to hand in their phones a few hours before the semi-final against Dublin in case someone released the state secret that Donegal were going to be very defensive.

Before that semi-final I wrote that the game would be as far removed from a traditional game of Gaelic football as had ever been played, with both sides opting for a very defensive strategy.

Well, instead of having 13 defenders they had 14. Big deal. Was it worth giving out a dummy team to all the spectators and TV viewers? I don't think that Pat Gilroy was quaking in his runners in the Dublin dressing room waiting for the Donegal team. The pattern of play was not going to change and the few personnel changes involved were largely irrelevant. God be with the days teams were picked and went out and won on Sunday without all this bull. There is nothing wrong with a policy of phones being turned off several hours before a game, but I certainly would not survive in the Donegal team. I would have no trouble having the phone turned off all day, but having to hand it up is silly stuff.

As for all the mouthing off at opponents, well it was clear to anyone watching that Dublin game and it was commented on on TV. Helping to get Diarmuid Connolly sent off was just an extension of that. They are not the first team to have players doing it and Dublin a few years ago were at it too. Now they have moved on and have realised how stupid it is.

When I was playing there were plenty of players who were very good at winding up opponents and there were few who didn't make the occasional uncomplimentary remark, but this type of concerted and organised baiting of opposition players is something I find particularly distasteful.

As for signing a confidentiality clause, well that is off the radar altogether. Never in a million years would I ever sign up for anything like that.

A team is based on trust and no signature on some silly rules and regulations changes that. If the trust breaks down, the contract is not worth the paper it is written on.

That goes for every walk of life. One of the great gifts of Seán Boylan was that he was able to operate in a rules-free zone. There were no drinking bans, you could talk to whoever you liked, the team was picked and sent out to play. These

and other things are now looked on as outdated, even though Dublin, and indeed Kerry, still hold true to many of those virtues. Treat a player like a mature, responsible person with interesting opinions and they will respond. Treat them like mushrooms, with no light, and they will only tolerate that for so long. Rigid systems don't work long term.

It is hardly surprising that Donegal players were happy enough to buy into this system last year. Being successful is worth that for most. After an initial high, players then change for the challenges ahead and great players don't have to be brainwashed.

Perhaps Kevin Cassidy is a loose cannon. Banning the players from appearing at the book launch -- if that is true -- only fuelled the oxygen of publicity. Would a quiet word not have been a better way to handle things? And it certainly looks from the outside that a sledgehammer has been used to crush a small nut. We live in very strange times.

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