Kill the Sam celebrations if you want to retain title
Published 07/01/2013 | 05:00
Sometimes GAA people have very short memories and there is no better example of this than the fact that Donegal have already been installed as favourites to win the 2013 All-Ireland title.
This seems to be a natural reaction nowadays when a team wins the Sam Maguire Cup, as many become bedazzled by the power of the champions from the previous year and load them with all sorts of adjectives that don't adequately describe the winners.
A year ago, the whole story was that Dublin would dominate the All-Ireland for several years because of their supposedly very strong panel. In the event, they were beaten by mayo in the All-Ireland semi-finals in 2012.
A glance at the football records over the past 60 years will show clearly how things have changed with regard to retaining the All-Ireland.
From 1960 to 1990, seven different counties retained the Sam Maguire at least once and, since the great Kerry team of that period won four-in-a-row from 1978-'81 and three on the trot from 1984-'86, the domination of this group was even greater.
But for the subsequent 22 years, from 1991 to 2012, only one county managed to retain the title – Kerry in 2007. That means there were an amazing 20 single winners of the All-Ireland in 22 years, which is the leanest spell for All-Ireland retention since the GAA was founded.
There are always divided opinions about the worth of once-off All-Ireland winners against teams who win doubles or trebles.
Many believe the game is better served by having as many different counties as possible winning, while others claim that a very strong team winning two or more in succession raises the standard and motivates other counties to stop such teams in their tracks.
However, the reason why so few teams are capable of winning successive All-Irelands deserves some scrutiny.
It is true that Kerry, with four, and Tyrone, with three, won seven All-Ireland's between them in a seven-year spell (2003-'09) – but only Kerry managed to successfully win successive Sam Maguire Cups in that period (2006-'07).
Needless to say, the arrival of the Qualifiers in 2001 made it even more difficult to hold onto Sam.
The common assertion on this matter is that, since it is so difficult to win the All-Ireland nowadays, it is, thus, nearly impossible to retain it.
This, however, is nonsense. Players are fitter, stronger and train far more often than many of their predecessors. This should make it easier for teams to win a second title in a row.
A more likely explanation is that the aftermath of All-Ireland success – rather than the actual effort involved in winning it – is the biggest hindrance to holding onto Sam.
The orgy of celebration that surrounds All-Ireland winners these days can undermine the massive motivation that brought them to ultimate glory in the first place – and there have been several examples of that in recent years.
Of course, there is one glaring exception to this – the Kilkenny hurlers. This group of players – and manager Brian Cody – seem to handle the celebrations better than anybody. Perhaps practice in this regard also makes perfect – if you could only get practice, that is.
I have no doubt that Jim McGuinness will apply himself with extra zeal to winning an All-Ireland double. But it will not be easy.
Everything that could go right for Donegal did so in the 2012 campaign and the law of averages decrees that such is unlikely to happen again.
In addition, the Donegal style, so successful in 2012, should be manageable for several counties with roughly the same level of talent available to them. Thus, it will rest with opposing managers to come up with ways of overcoming the Donegal way of playing.
That said, McGuinness, like any good manager, is an innovator and we can be sure he will have many variations from the 2012 style for the coming season.
What impact – if any – the celebrations surrounding Donegal's success will have on the players' attitudes will be the most crucial aspect of their shot at the double this year.