Off the Ball

Thursday 31 July 2014

How GAA teams lose their hunger once they get a taste of success

Donny Mahoney

Published 09/07/2014|02:30

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'Brendan Bugler's magnificent form for Clare last summer might be best explained by an awareness that a singular chance for inter-pcounty glory was within his fingertips.' Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
'Brendan Bugler's magnificent form for Clare last summer might be best explained by an awareness that a singular chance for inter-pcounty glory was within his fingertips.' Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Hunger. Is there a more frustrating, yet succinct word to describe the fates of good and bad GAA teams?

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GAA commentators, especially in hurling, fall back on it because it seems so obvious. Whether your county’s hunting in packs of seven or heavy-legged and out of ideas, one word sums it all up: hunger, or the lack thereof.

Take Clare’s middling form this summer. This is clearly not the Clare of August-September 2013, so Davy must be losing the hunger games. The same could be said of Donegal last year, or Dublin after they won the All-Ireland in 2011.

And in a way, it must be right. Hunger must be a real thing for amateur athletes.

It’s perfectly understandable how someone with a family and full-time job might lose the motivation for another 10-month campaign having already caught one glimpse of the mountain top.

Equally, the magnificent form of Brendan Bugler and Pat Donnellan for Clare last summer might be best explained by an awareness that a singular chance for inter-county glory was within their fingertips.

Defining the science of GAA hunger is a trickier endeavour.

Dublin hurlers were desperate on Sunday and middling in the league.

Are they entitled to be full after merely winning Leinster last year?

The Dublin footballers are bucking all the trends and seem hungrier than ever, though a hungerologist might argue that this is because Jim Gavin has managed to balance the hunger cycle by developing an insatiably hungry bench that keeps the starting 15 chomping at the bit.

Is Brian Cody simply the master of prolonging hunger in his team – so much so that All-Irelands don’t taste like All-Irelands – or is it in fact that his coaching methods and tactics ensure a level of consistency that generally sees off even the most starved competition?

The GAA is yet to unearth its Nate Silver, the data wizard who can crystallise the madness of Gaelic games into scientific truths, but when’s he found, the first thing he’ll do is debunk the hunger myth.

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