independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Off The Ball: Brolly's crusade pointing way to a brighter future

Pundit genuinely cares about game -- and his fight against cynicism can make a difference

Joe Brolly with Paul Kammage.
 Picture By David Conachy.
Joe Brolly

After two days of powerpoint presentations and pep talks, the coaches that gathered for the Liberty Insurance Games Development Conference at Croke Park were treated to the spectacle of a gregarious Joe Brolly, with a mic and a pulpit and a willingness to be himself.

I'd never met Joe. He had piqued my interest for some time, the manner in which he argued points devoid of the arrogance and generalities former players take to conversations in the public domain. Granted, he may have his own form of arrogance, safe in the knowledge that there are few that can take him on at his own game. You could replace Spillane with Chomsky and we'd have a more even keel.

But then he attacked a good man's character and we all lost it. Brolly admitted his wrong and moved on, while the rest of the GAA population struggled to come to terms with the reality of where the game had gone, that winning is now all that matters. That cynicism in pursuit of winning was justified and this was destroying the game. And all of this, under the loosening cloak of amateurism.

I didn't know what to expect, looking up at him as he broke the audience down with a humorous story that involved a cursing juvenile. We scold children for using expletives, yet it seems to be universally hilarious when they do. But I wanted him to earn my approval. I wanted him to work for it. No cheap laughs.

The next 20 minutes were riveting, hilarious, thought-provoking, offensive but above all else, inspiring. I came to life listening to him. Knowing there is someone so influential, so articulate, with the added bonus of an experiential knowledge of his topic that he uses to cultivate his arguments, is genuinely heartwarming. Because beneath the facade, the quick wit and the outbursts, he genuinely cares.

Cares where the game is going. Cares about the players. He understands that they're custodians of a set of values. And not the often unachievable moral values of the GAA, but simple, human values of fairness and creativity at play.

"Sean Kavanagh said after the infamous incident that that's the way the game has gone," Brolly quoted. "Sean's a lovely fella, but to my mind, he's talking through his arse."

Machiavellian tactics, the idea that end justifies the means, a win-at-all-costs ideology... these all render the game pointless, he argued. I was on the edge of my seat.

Fair enough, Roscommon play Dublin in the championship this year. What do you expect Roscommon to do? Drag men down, get behind the ball. Counter-attack. Lose possession, drag men down etc. Stave off a beating. At best sneak a 0-9 to 0-8 win. But in 10 years' time the narrative won't have changed. And they'll still be behind.

Learn the skills. Encourage expression. Focus on autonomy and creativity. Allow for the development of the person. Welcome losing as a lesson, free of judgment. Smile. Laugh. Enjoy. Create a culture from U-14 to senior and you can be sure that narrative will change. They'll thank you soon, Joe.

Diarmuid Lyng

 

Defoe’s Toronto move a wise call

When Jermain Defoe, a long time team-mate of Robbie Keane, called his move to Toronto FC “a dream come true” on Monday, more than a few eyes rolled. In fact, the whole move has been ridiculed in the English press.

Moving for the money seems to be the worst crime he, a professional footballer, stands accused of. The £90,000 a week is doubtless more than he could command in England at this stage of his career.

More than that, at 31, what’s the harm in looking for a new challenge? With his time up at Spurs, the expectation on Defoe is to take a step down to a lower-level Premier League team. Doubtless the likes of Stoke would love to have him, but after 12 years in the Premier League, would battling it out for 14th place for the next three years really be worth it?

It's a short career. Why fade away when you can earn more elsewhere and become the face of a club, something that Defoe, for all his talents, has never even nearly been?

The only issue here is the World Cup. If there’s a genuine chance he can go to Brazil, this is a risky move. Then again, the chance might not be there in 12 months and maybe hoping to squeeze onto the plane as fourth-choice striker is not worth the sacrifice.

Scoring a hatful of goals between now and then for his new club can’t do any more harm to his chances than sitting on the Spurs bench.

Micahel McCarthy

 

Manning duel with Brady can convert NFL agnostics

Brian Eno once said that only 30,000 people bought the first Velvet Underground album -- but they all started bands.

My expectation for this Sunday's AFC final between the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots is this: only 30,000 people in this country may see the game, but they will all become evangelists for the sport (if they weren't already).

Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady. There will be countless other subplots, but for the uninitiated, it boils down to a duel between two of the game's greatest quarterbacks, one 37- years-old, the other 36.

There is so much at stake. These days, American football is a young man's game where you're only as good as your next debilitating injury.

Odds are this will be the final Brady v Manning clash, with a Super Bowl trip on the line. Both players are assured their place in the pantheon, but both are haunted by recent Super Bowl failures.

Denver will be favourites, but Brady's Patriots have often had the edge over Manning, including this season when they stormed back to overturn a 24-point deficit.

However it plays out, it couldn't be a better occasion to kindle an interest in the sport.

Donny Mahoney

 

Australian Open doesn't deserve Grand Slam status -- campaign to downgrade it starts here

With competitors retching, vomiting and retiring after one day of play, it is time for the sporting world to ask itself a long-ignored question: does it really need the Australian Open?

There's always been something underwhelming about tennis' first -- and least important -- Grand Slam on the calendar.

Now that a horrific heatwave has forced Melbourners indoors during daylight hours, it's a worthwhile opportunity to ponder why exactly we've placed extra prestige on this tournament.

The Australian Open has been designated a Grand Slam since the 1920s, and its central mystique remains the same now as it did then: it's played really far away from all the other majors.

There's nothing unique in the playing surface, no sweeping historical nostalgia for the media to indulge in, no real Australian exceptionalism in the sport bar Rod Laver.

It has only been open to players from around the world since 1969. So why are we stuck with it?

Ask yourself: has any other 'big' sporting event managed to produce so few memorable moments? Even the US PGA, the bastard son of golf Majors, has served up fascinating performances by Rory McIlroy and Padraig Harrington, to list but two Hibernocentric memories.

Until the tennis gods invent a new playing surface (hard Qatari sand anyone?), the sport seems perfectly served by three Grand Slams. The campaign to downgrade the Australian Open starts here.

Donny Mahoney

 

Ronaldo deserves credit for years of hard work on road to world summit

It is a well-told story at this stage. "We're not leaving this ground until we've got that boy signed," said Alex Ferguson in August 2003. It was half-time in a pre-season friendly at the Estadio Jose Alvalade, where an unheralded 17-year-old Lisbon winger had made John O'Shea look abysmal.

Ferguson ordered his kitman to the stands in search of chief executive Peter Kenyon. Discussions were had. Within 24 hours, one Cristiano Ronaldo was on a private jet to Manchester. A thrilling debut at home to Bolton followed and his ascension to superstardom seemed complete. But it wasn't really.

Ronaldo's current standing can feel like the inevitable conclusion to a mostly straightforward journey. It now overshadows what were a dismal first three years at Old Trafford. He was gangly. He made terrible decisions in possession. He moaned incessantly. He went missing in big games. The braces and bad hair were ditched for a sort of sneering narcissism. In his first season, he couldn't manage the target of 10 goals set by the club.

The target of 15 goals in season two also proved beyond him. Against a beaten Millwall in the '04 FA Cup final, he did some keepie-uppies in midfield, which prompted a public Ryan Giggs scolding. There wasn't much to like and not much justification for the considerable self-regard. He was the poster boy for style over substance during a period dominated by Mourinho's ultra-pragmatic Chelsea.

Still, you hear the story from 2003 and you see Ronaldo today and you assume it was awesome talent which saw him through those darker days. What's become apparent with each passing year, though, is that he could well be the hardest working footballer on the planet. Through daily, monotonous, repetitive work he has transformed himself in a way few players could contemplate. His dedication in the gym repeatedly blew the mind of Mike Clegg, United's power development coach. He perfected the Juninho free-kick technique.

He reined in his showboating and delivered in the biggest games. It has been a steady glorious transformation. The narcissism and self-regard remain. He still enjoys a moan. But in a way which would have seemed unthinkable in 2004, it turns out Ronaldo's defining attribute is his work ethic. We can all admire that.

Joe Molloy

 

City a joy to watch since Mancini axe

Elsewhere in today's column, Diarmuid Lyng is talking about giving GAA teams full licence to express themselves without fear of failure and Donny Mahoney is telling you to make sure you watch the two greatest attacking minds of their generation go head-to-head in the NFL on Sunday night.

We love sport because we want to watch the best players attack and create. That's why this flawed Manchester City team have so much to recommend them and why I hope they crush Blackburn tonight.

Their slightly preposterous bid for four trophies will surely falter somewhere along the way -- most likely at the hands of Barcelona in the Champions League -- but their old-school commitment to trying to win games playing beautiful football is a welcome mini-revolution.

Arsenal under Wenger and Ferguson's United generally were also committed to the same creative principles and this time around, Chelsea under Mourinho may yet find that their attacking talent is so great they're forced to use it.

The clammy hand of Roberto Mancini has been totally removed from the throat of Manchester City. It took a lot of money, but this is a team worth watching.

Ger Gilroy

 

Playing in scorching heat a recipe for disaster -- Murray

Andy Murray said he feared someone could suffer a heart attack if Australian Open organisers insist on play going ahead in 108F (42C) temperatures in Melbourne, as they did yesterday.

Murray spent only 1hr 27min on court as he beat Japan's Go Soeda 6-1 6-1 6-3 on a day when one player, Canada's Frank Dancevic, fainted after a set and a half of his match and another, Peng Shuai of China, vomited at the side of the court. A ball boy collapsed during another match and many ticket holders chose not to sit courtside because of the intensity of the heat.

Wimbledon champion Murray said the decision to allow play to go on had projected a "terrible" image of the sport.

"It's definitely something that you have to look at," he said. "As much as it's easy to say the conditions are safe, it only takes one bad thing to happen. And it looks terrible for the whole sport when people are collapsing. That's not great.

"There's been some issues in other sports with players having heart attacks."

The guidelines allow Wayne McEwen, the tournament referee, to suspend play on the outer courts and close the roofs on the main arenas when the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature -- a composite figure that accounts for factors such as humidity and wind speed -- reaches a certain level. But McEwen has declined to say what that temperature is.

A statement went out yesterday claiming that a "low level of humidity" had kept the conditions playable. Yet certain precautions were taken, including ice vests being sent to every court. A 10-minute break was also allowed for female players who were required to play a deciding set.

This was another source of confusion for Murray. "I don't know why there's different rules (for men and women)," he said. "If there's a medical reason, then I'm fine with it. If there isn't, I'm not."

When the temperature climbs to 108F, as it did around 5.0, plastic bottles start to bond with the courts and moths fall out of the sky, stone dead. The trams carrying spectators to and from Melbourne Park had to be suspended after their tracks buckled in the heat.

FURIOUS

Dancevic was understandably furious when he regained consciousness on Court Six and was required to complete his match against Benoit Paire. Dancevic lost, though at least it was over relatively quickly, 7-6 6-3 6-4.

"I think it's inhumane," Dancevic said. "Being out there for a set and a half and passing out with heatstroke, it's not normal. Until somebody dies, they'll just keep going on with it and putting matches on in this heat."

Not every player shared the sense of alarm over the conditions. Walking on to Rod Laver Arena soon after 1.0, Roger Federer saw off wild card James Duckworth in his customarily elegant and effortless manner. He barely seemed to sweat as he breezed into the second round in 1hr 46mins and later shrugged off any concerns about the weather.

"If you've trained hard enough and you believe you can come through it, there's no reason (to quit)," he said. "If you can't deal with it, you throw in the towel."

These debates are likely to roll on, for Melbourne is forecast to keep sweltering until temperatures cool on Saturday. The conditions may have contributed to a tally of nine retirements during the first round, which equals a record set at the 2011 US Open.

Victoria Azarenka, aiming for a third successive Australian Open title, defeated 91st-ranked Johanna Larsson of Sweden, 7-6 6-2. "It's like you're dancing in a frying pan," the second seed said.

Australia's favourite enigma, Bernard Tomic, pulled out of his clash with Rafael Nadal after losing the first set, which drew a chorus of hoots and boos from a capacity crowd on Rod Laver Arena.

Tomic complained of soreness in his groin, though he should perhaps have taken a lesson from Gilles Simon, who beat Daniel Brands 16-14 in the fifth set despite having been on crutches for a sprained ankle only two days earlier. When the match finished, at about 11.0 at night, the ambient temperature still stood at nearly 90F. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

AUSTRALIAN OPEN, LIVE, EUROSPORT, 6.00

Simon Briggs in Melbourne

Irish Independent

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