Monday 29 December 2014

Unlike King, Opposition has ignored holes in own defence

Published 19/10/2013 | 05:00

Republic of Ireland interim manager Noel King.

Mary Lou McDonald, Micheal Martin, and Stephen Donnelly, could have learned a thing or two from stand-in Irish soccer manager Noel King over the past few days.

Noel was, as probably the whole country now knows, in the wars with Eamon Dunphy, and some sundry RTE luminaries over his performance in the most thankless job in Irish sport.

In passing, it should be said Eamon has the first part of his autobiography to sell so there's no such thing as bad publicity for our controversialist par excellence. Also, in passing, it should be acknowledged his book 'My Rocky Road' is a rollicking good read.

Initially, things seemed to go downhill for the interim manager, when – wearing a very snazzy suit, shirt and tie – he went into the bear pit which is now the norm for a post- match post-mortem, where the national team manager is expected to be ready for ritual dissection. However, if the sporting commentariat thought they were luring the proverbial lamb to the slaughter, they were in for something of a shock. King has, over a lifetime, plied his trade as a football man, whether it be player, coach, or manager, trying to earn a crust in the decidedly less glamorous side of the business.

He never did achieve the dizzying heights of cross-channel stardom, but he sure learned a lot in the sporting school of hard knocks, and it was quite clear managing the current elite in Irish football did not faze him one whit. At this stage of his life he has the innate confidence of a man who knows his own mind – and is willing to speak it.

So when it came to the usual end-of-game confrontation with the media he was in no mood for any lecturing from those who pride themselves on being wise after the event.

He laid things on the line as he saw it. His team played away against Germany, arguably the best side in the world, and they weren't humiliated. They then took on the hackers from Kazakhstan and they hacked out a win. From his perspective his tactics on both occasions delivered – where it mattered – on the field of play. There was not much more to be said. He was obviously determined to have a go at any after-the-event, nit-picking detractors. Well able to argue his case, he felt perfectly entitled to dish it out to those who would try to do him down.

However, in sharp contrast this was not the situation with the three aforementioned politicians, who arrived with all guns blazing this week only to suffer, in each instance, a humiliating putdown.

Unlike King, their approach lacked core conviction, and their contributions on the Budget were redolent of gamesmanship and stroke politics at its most unctuous. They failed to prise out the fact that this year's Budget was the craftiest and most conniving piece of financial handiwork presented to the Dail for some time.

THE avuncular silver fox Micheal Noonan played a blinder in both its presentation, and in a subsequent round of radio interviews, where with calm assurance, he wrong-footed a succession of interrogators. The devil certainly was in the detail of this Budget, and one of the wiliest operators of them all was determined to keep those details well and truly fudged.

In the ensuing Dail debate it was Mary Lou McDonald who fell into the biggest trap of all when her key political weakness – an unrelenting capacity for verbal excess – lured her into making some self-damaging assertions cloaked in over-the- top language.

She dismissed the Jobsbridge scheme as "mickey mouse'', when in actual fact it is both popular and effective in a country where the public service has all but stopped recruiting and the private sector is generating employment at a snail's pace.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny adopted a more verbally assertive stance all round. He let an obviously taken-aback Sinn Fein firebrand have it with both barrels repeatedly taunting her with the refrain, "how dare you insult their right to have a job'' when referring to those using the scheme to try and get work.

Next man up for an equally ill-judged attack was Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin. "Taoiseach what did the older people of Ireland ever do to you to deserve this kind of treatment?'' he plaintively cried.

It came across as cringe-inducing, and the newly assertive Kenny was in once again for the kill, as he witheringly taunted the FF leader for indulging "opportunistic blather''.

Then came the turn of independent TD Stephen Donnelly, who sounded plain ridiculous. He desperately tried to compare the reduction of dole payments to those aged under-26 with some of the great civil-rights issues of our time, such as the treatment of black people, Muslims and women. It was a bit off the scale to put it mildly.

Overall, there was no detailed economic analysis on offer, just the quest for a populist sound bite which at times descended into farce. The bottom line is that much of what should have been debated about this Budget never came up for discussion at all.

Unlike Noel King – whatever his perceived faults – the arguments put forward by the politicians singularly lacked conviction and belief. They came across as glib, and seemed little other than a tawdry quest for easy point-scoring. The politicians were so hell-bent on attack they ignored gaping holes in their own defence – and as the interim Irish manager might say, that's no way to play the game if you want to land a good result.

Irish Independent

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