True glory is attained by being the best you can be
After playing inter-county football for nearly 15 years with one of the so-called lesser counties, I know that the real value of our games lies in pursuit of excellence against all the odds, writes Colin Regan
Published 09/07/2011 | 05:00
I was listening to Liam O'Neill, the next president of the GAA, being interviewed on radio a couple of weeks ago and one thing he said really caught my ear.
He was asked about his intentions regarding the weaker counties in hurling, and he replied he didn't believe that there are weaker counties in the GAA, but rather that there are 'advantaged counties' due to their higher populations and greater resources.
It may only be a matter of semantics, but for someone who played football with a so-called weaker county for the guts of 15 years, it was refreshing to hear some new thinking on the subject at the upper echelons of the association.
In best-case scenarios, media discourse on the matter usually focuses on a lot of predictable rhetoric.
The inevitable struggle of the underdog is highlighted, against-all-odds possibilities expounded. In worst-case scenarios, commentary by pundits or so-called experts descends into condescending sneering or dismissive arrogance backed up by ignorance.
Leitrim's population -- or lack thereof -- has never been used as a motivation by management teams or a crutch to lean on. Des Dolan, throughout his four years of management, constantly reminded us in his own inimitable way that we were "as well fed as any other man in the country," and, as far as he was concerned, "better trained to boot".
His bugbear, and mine, was always our facilities and access to them. The GAA has a responsibility to level the playing field for teams that don't have access to facilities enjoyed by the 'advantaged counties'.
The Dublin footballers are based in DCU's Centre of Excellence, I understand. That must be tough. In my time playing with Leitrim -- because we have so many lads based in Dublin and didn't have a floodlit all-weather pitch in the county -- I trained in Kells, Navan, Cavan, Mullingar, Bunbrosna and, more times than I care to remember, in Longford Rugby Club.
From Letterkenny, where I was based for four years, that was nearly a six-hour round trip. Thankfully, Leitrim's Centre of Excellence is due for completion in 2012.
Address the facilities issue. Otherwise it's like giving Usain Bolt a 20-metre head-start in the 100 metres. We'll address the population situation ourselves.
You can break down the lot of any inter-county team that boasts a small population into numbers. But sport isn't about statistics, it's about people and dreams and character.
And as far as I am concerned those playing for smaller counties often exhibit more character than those for whom provincial titles and All-Irelands are an annual possibility, if not a likelihood.
If you knew before you were asked to start a job that over the last 125 years only two people have succeeded at the task at hand, would you fancy your chances?
That is the history that each Leitrim county panel takes on every year in pursuit of a Connacht title. And it's not just Leitrim.
Take our neighbours Fermanagh, whom we played in Pairc Sean Mac Diarmada during this season's league campaign, the only county in Ulster not to have won a provincial title.
If you only play sport to win, you are missing the point just as much as if you don't play to win. You play for the pursuit of excellence -- to be the best player you possibly can be. Only that can bring you victory, and often, it still may not be enough.
For a Leitrim footballer the chances of glory are few and glimpsing, the potential for pain and heartbreak ever-present. But even on the darkest days of defeat I always saw myself returning for more as long as my body was able. As Samuel Beckett said: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
I am the most competitive person I know, and always played to win. And I have victories that are fondly remembered, as much for what it meant to our supporters as what it meant to me.
In my capacity as a journalist I interviewed our former county secretary Tommy Moran when he retired in 2000. Tommy is a legend in Leitrim, and upon his departure from the county board after 25 years of involvement I asked him what was so special about his association with our county.
His reply has always stayed with me: "In Kerry their supporters are happy when they win an All-Ireland. In Leitrim they're happy when we win."
If you play solely to win you've missed the point. Be the best you can be, and if that brings victory along the line, savour and celebrate it. If not, celebrate the worth to be attained from giving your all every time you take to the field.
Perspective is often best achieved by looking outside the cauldron of sport, and the French writer Gustave Flaubert summed it up perfectly when he said: "Success is a result, not a goal".
It's a motto that would serve the association well in this age of 'win at all costs'.