Saturday 21 October 2017

Martin Breheny: Champions must banish hype

Dublin and Clare hopes hinge on rejecting myth they are streets ahead of rivals

Dublin football manager Jim Gavin
Dublin football manager Jim Gavin
Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

They have scooped awards, had their backs slapped, their pictures taken with smiling supporters, scrawled their names on autograph books, enjoyed exotic holidays and been feted at home and abroad in a three-month celebration splurge.

Dublin footballers and Clare hurlers followed the usual path trodden by All-Ireland winners, embracing the well-earned rewards of a successful year.

All good so far, but as respective managers Jim Gavin and Davy Fitzgerald take their squads into a new season, they know that the challenge facing them is more daunting than last year.

That's usually the case anyway for All-Ireland champions, but it's more pronounced than usual for Dublin and Clare, both of whom have been not only deluged by praise, but also presented as forces of such imposing will and presence that the only question is how long they will remain at the summit.

Distinctions

End-of-year reflections tend to come with predictable distinctions, where All-Ireland champions are classified as adventurous trail-blazers who will dominate for quite some time, while runners-up and various others are herded into the losers' bay where their perceived problems are highlighted.

It's all neat and tidy, but not remotely reliable. Gavin and Fitzgerald know that, so their first task in forming a strategy to give Dublin and Clare the best chance of retaining their All-Ireland titles will be to ensure that the players don't believe everything that has been written and spoken about them.

If you were to accept some of the portrayals of Dublin, you would regard them as a developing force of nature, poised to build extensively on last year's surge and establish an empire which would make the Kerry squad of the 1970s-80s look like low-achievers.

As for Fitzy's fliers, they have, apparently, remodelled hurling to such a degree that rival managers are watching their DVDs late into the night, praying to the hurling gods that they can imitate Clare in a manner which gives them some chance.

The depiction of Dublin and Clare as young, buccaneering forces setting new agendas may turn out to be accurate, but it's far too early to be sure. Yet, both squads are repeatedly listening to such fanciful descriptions, which is where Gavin and Fitzgerald come in.

As older, wiser and more experienced hands, they will probably devote a few nights to teaching history. It may not be a favourite subject for many players, but its cold, clinical message is worth heeding as it shows that over-reacting to past successes puts the future at risk.

Dublin's All-Ireland/NFL double last year was undeniably impressive in a season where they lost only one competitive game. Coupled with claims that their emerging talent is solid gold, it's easy to understand why there's so much blue hype.

Still, Dublin won the league final (v Tyrone) and the All-Ireland final (v Mayo) by a point and were level with Kerry late on in the semi-final before driving on.

It suggests that their strongest pursuers were very close indeed, yet there now seems to be a view that Dublin will put considerable daylight between them and the other main contenders.

With the exception of Kerry in 2006 and '07, no county has retained the football All-Ireland since Cork in 1990, which underlines just how difficult it is to defend the title.

It's something Gavin will be acutely aware of as he embarks on a new challenge.

Clare's situation is even more intriguing. Having won the All-Ireland with a squad whose average age was marginally over 23, it's automatically assumed that there is much more to come.

There's also a view in some quarters that the Banner style demands a fundamental rethink by all others if they are to have any hope of matching Clare.

Quite apart from the fact that Clare used various approaches -- including long ball when the occasion demanded -- it's ludicrous to suggest that they have changed the face of hurling and that others must copy or perish.

How many were saying that after Clare lost to Cork in the Munster semi-final or just before Domhnall O'Donovan hoisted the equalising point in the All-Ireland final?

Now, it's all about Clare, while Cork are supposed to have lost their chance.

Really? The average age of the Cork squad that lost the final was 24.3, scarcely veteran class ready to be pensioned off. And with Aidan Walsh and Eoin Cadogan aboard this year, they have welcome additions that will strengthen attack and defence.

And then there's Kilkenny (they haven't gone away you know), Tipperary, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and possibly Wexford, who drew with Clare in normal time in the qualifiers.

Dublin and Clare are worthy All-Ireland champions, but predictions that they will remain the dominant forces over coming years are based on no more than an assumption one season is a reliable guide to the future.

It may be, but don't bank on it, whatever the gushing end-of-year reviews claimed.

'Comfort with ambiguity' requirement in job criteria mirrors GAA's attitude to payment rule

I note from the GAA's advertisement for a commercial and sponsorship manager that one of the many stated key requirements is "comfort with ambiguity."

Here's a tip for prospective candidates.

When asked at interview about how comfortable with ambiguity you really are, say that you have studied the GAA's approach to Rule 1.10 of the Official Guide, which states: "A player, team, official or member shall not accept payment in cash or in kind in conjunction with the playing of Gaelic games."

Then tell the interviewers that you're as comfortable with ambiguity in general as the GAA is with Rule 1.10.

It might not get you the job, but it will certainly show that you understand the meaning of the phrase.

Opponents to Friday football do the GAA no service

Weather permitting, nine O'Byrne and McKenna Cup games will be played tonight as Leinster and Ulster expedite their pre-season tournaments.

And later in the year Wednesday nights will host provincial U-21 championship games.

Yet, when Leinster officials tried to fix the Longford versus Offaly Leinster senior football championship tie for a Friday night next May, they encountered enough opposition to prompt them to scrap the initiative.

While accepting that senior provincial games are more important than pre-season tournaments (hence no need for a lengthy build-up on match day), it still raises the question of why it wasn't possible -- even as a one-off trial -- to play one senior provincial championship game on a Friday night.

Those who opposed it might reflect on the reality that by preventing the Friday experiment they ensured less media coverage for the GAA that weekend.

Scarcely a good idea in a summer when soccer stages the World Cup finals.

Irish Independent

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