Martin Breheny: Winners not always much smarter than their victims
Published 22/07/2015 | 02:30
What's that saying again? Time makes fools of us all. So too do events, sporting and otherwise.
The trick, it seems, is to pretend otherwise. Nowhere is that more prevalent than in analysis of sporting events, where opinions tend to be fully shaped by results rather than reality.
Pundits never lose out by backing the winners, pointing out how much slicker their performance was, accompanied by the absolute certainty that the team management were infinitely cleverer than the dithering opposition.
Take last weekend's Cork v Kerry, Donegal v Monaghan and Mayo v Sligo games.
The consensus among the ever-burgeoning former player commentating classes was that Eamonn Fitzmaurice gave another exhibition of managerial genius, that Malachy O'Rourke out-foxed Rory Gallagher and that relocating Aidan O'Shea to full-forward has completed Mayo's jigsaw.
I disagree on all three fronts. Fitzmaurice was lauded for making brave decisions prior to, and during, both the drawn and replayed Munster finals.
Isn't that his job? He is closer to the players than anybody else and knows exactly what's going on. So what's the big deal?
He removed Kieran Donaghy from the action after 44 minutes in last Saturday's replay, again attracting credit for his 'ruthless' approach. We're told that some managers wouldn't be so brave as to withdraw their captain at that stage. Really? They would if they had the luxury of replacing him with Colm Cooper. I'm not being remotely critical of Fitzmaurice but even he must be surprised by some of the acclamation that is coming his way.
He knows that it would be altogether different if Fionn Fitzgerald's kick-and-hope effort in the final seconds of the drawn game had drifted wide.
Suddenly, Kerry would have been facing an altogether different route, probably involving Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final, leaving Fitzmaurice open ot accusations of not knowing his best team at the height of the championship.
The impact of Fitzgerald's saving point for Kerry contrasts with the fallout from Paddy McBrearty's narrow miss at the end of the Donegal v Monaghan last Sunday.
In particular, it highlights how assessments are based solely on results, however tight the margins.
Former Armagh star Tony McEntee was especially flattering towards Malachy O'Rourke, claiming that the Monaghan boss gave the best managerial performance at any level in years.
That's quite a statement. Would McEntee have been as complimentary if McBrearty's kick had levelled the game? And what if the shot had been lower and the ball cannoned off the upright into the hands of a Donegal forward, who kicked the winning goal?
Nothing to do with O'Rourke's tactical approach, yet the game would have produced a different result. Would McEntee still be as impressed by O'Rourke?
Perhaps so, although I can't recall offhand where a losing manager was lauded in such gushing terms.
Jim McGuinness also praised what he regarded as a smart game plan by Monaghan against his former charges. He was careful not to be seen to blame the Donegal players or Gallagher, but his underlying theme was clear: Monaghan were smarter this time.
And yet! Donegal kicked 15 wides, 11 in the second half. According to McGuinness, most of the wides were kicked under extreme pressure.
Apart from the fact that it's hardly unusual for attackers to be closely marked in a big game, I disagree with McGuinness that the Donegal kickers were closely shadowed all the time.
Some of the wides were kicked under no great pressure. For example, all three of Donegal's misses in the first three minutes of the second-half should have been scored. That they were off-target was simply down to bad play and nothing to do with Monaghan's formation.
Tactical differences did not decide the outcome. The wides count (15-9 to Donegal) was much more crucial in a game where both sides were set up so defensively that they managed just 21 points between them.
And so to Aidan O'Shea's new role as a full-forward destroyer role for Mayo. He gave man-of-the-match performances against Galway, a Division 2 side, and Sligo from Division 3.
It could be altogether different when he's confronted by banks of hard-nosed security types. After all, playing him close to goal didn't work for Ireland against a big Australian defence in the International Rules game last November.
Yet, the switch is being portrayed as a masterstroke, one that James Horan never considered working on over previous years. Somehow, I doubt if that were the case.
McIver blames referee rather than handpassing madness
Brian McIver took a conspiracy theory too far in his comments about the referee after the Galway-Derry qualifier game.
"Conor Lane, I said (to the players), is a referee that comes with no agenda. By God, he came with some agenda today," said the Derry boss before resigning.
McIver's gripes were three-fold. He complained that Derry should have had a 62nd-minute penalty, when they were four points behind.
He questioned how Galway got nine of their 11 points from frees and he was unhappy over the dismissal of Brendan Rodgers.
TV re-runs left analysts divided on the penalty call so no blame attaches to Cork referee Lane on that one. As for frees, Derry were awarded two more than Galway, so maybe McIver's men stand indicted of fouling in their own red zone.
The Rodgers' black card was a very harsh call. Certainly, you are unlikely to see a player dismissed in Croke Park for a similar offence later on in the championship.
However, amid all his complaints, McIver might reflect on this: three of Derry's eight points came in the first nine minutes and one deep in stoppage-time in the second half.
That left an hour during which they scored only four points as they criss-crossed the field with repeated handpassing, the ball often going backwards by several metres.
The referee wasn't responsible for that sterile - and ultimately futile - approach. McIver was.
Brogan scores big on the proportion fields
It is Bernard Brogan's considered opinion that the row in the Dublin-Armagh challenge game, which left his colleague, Davey Byrne hospitalised, was "a little bit blown out of proportion."
Now, who could be responsible for such a dastardly intrusion in what the counties deemed a private matter, best sorted out among themselves away from the prying eyes of the GAA's disciplinary system?
Since Dublin and Armagh were keen to 'move on' from the incident with as much secrecy as possible, presumably Bernard (left)thinks the media were the proportion-busters.
His comments came at yet another publicity event,which was dutifully covered by many of the same media that dealt with the Byrne affair. Now there's irony: the media carries Brogan's view that coverage of the Byrne incident was over-egged, while also covering the commercial venture where he made the remarks. Proportionately speaking, that's a very good deal for him.