Friday 30 September 2016

Martin Breheny: Blaming managers is harmless until it breaches the decency barrier

Winners don't always get it right no more than losers get it all wrong

Published 01/06/2016 | 02:30

Kieran McGeeney
Kieran McGeeney

Here's what Seánie Johnston said after Cavan's victory over Armagh last Sunday. "We were favourites to win and we embraced that. We fully believed we would win and we did win."

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Now, if Stefan Campbell had scored a goal from a penalty in the 57th minute to cut the deficit to a goal and Armagh had gone on to stage a winning surge, would Seánie have shared his views so openly about Cavan's pre-match mood?

Of course not. The embracing and the believing would still have gone on but expressing it so candidly after losing would have sounded ridiculous.

Pundits would have nodded sagely towards each other, with the more self-regarding of the species probably reheating a previously rehearsed line about it being a classic example of Cavan getting carried away after winning promotion to Division 1 and being brought back to reality by hard-nosed, streetwise Armagh.

Revealing

But then Johnston would not have said it. Instead, the line from the Cavan camp would have been all about how they knew that Armagh were a whole lot better than their league performances suggested.

Now, Johnston's remarks are being used as an example of how Cavan have matured. Jim McGuinness thought his comments were 'revealing', proving that Cavan 'weren't all that excited to beat Armagh'.

Do you buy that? Cavan won their opening Ulster Championship game for only the second time in seven seasons and they weren't excited about it?

Surely, even in an era when the fun is being squeezed from the inter-county game, it hasn't become so dreary that players in a county like Cavan can't savour reaching a provincial semi-final.

Cavan's win has switched the focus on to Kieran McGeeney, who, as losing manager, simply has to be wrong. It's the way of the modern sporting world, a dismally boring addition which is becoming more prevalent all the time.

Is it possible that Armagh just aren't up to much at present? It has happened before - inside the last 20 years, in fact, when they failed to win any Ulster game in three seasons (1995-97). And, of course, there was no second chance back then.

The modern trend of dumping all responsibility for defeat at the manager's door is taking superficiality to idiotic levels. To suggest that there are times when Team A won because they had better players than Team B might be an old-fashioned concept but it's no less accurate for that.

Of course it's fun suggesting reasons why a team lost and, with the unquestionable benefit of hindsight, offering suggestions on how they might have won but it's now being taken to extreme lengths. But then winning is regarded as the only show in town. For example, you rarely see man-of-the-match accolades - either in the print or broadcast outlets - awarded to a player from the losing side, even if he has performed superbly. It's back to the winner-takes-all mentality, just as it is with the assessment of managers.

Consistently blaming managers for defeats might look harmless unless the attacks break the decency barrier, which they sometimes do, but there's a deeper significance, which is damaging. If so much of the blame for defeats is apportioned to the managers, it provides an escape route, not only for players, but also for county boards and others whose job it is to provide the required talent for the inter-county game.

Galway hurlers and Mayo footballers were quick to dump on their managers last autumn and got their way because a stand taken by players can't fail in an amateur game. After all, if they refuse to play, everything grinds to a halt and there can be no sanctions.

Issues

With so much focus on managers and how they perform, sight is being lost of some real issues.

Like, for instance, how the obsession with defensive systems is wringing entertainment from the games. It has been going on in football for quite some time and is now spreading to hurling, although the situation isn't nearly as serious.

Besides, it won't last. Creative minds will find a way to beat the sweepers and the packed middle third.

It's different in football where the cursed handpass underpins negativity. For reasons that I can never understand, all rule reviews over the years have backed away from dealing with the handpass scourge.

For some reason, it appears to be sacrosanct in a game where use of the boot is no more than optional. How sad is that in a sport called Gaelic football?

And if you don't believe that kicking skills are dying, why are most teams now using goalkeepers to kick long-range frees off the ground? Why is it a lost art among outfield players?

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