Friday 31 October 2014

It's no crime for amateur players to have a drink

Published 07/06/2014 | 02:30

There was nothing but 100 per cent effort went into Tipperary's clash with Limerick as Donal O'Grady and Brendan Maher battle for possession

On Tuesday in Youghalarra Church, Donie Nealon clasped Brendan Maher's out-stretched palm with both hands, leaning in close for a private word.

The warmth was palpable between the past and present of Tipperary hurling. Maher had come to pay his respects at the funeral of Nealon's beloved wife Kitty and you didn't need to be a body linguist to know the direction their conversation was taking.

Donie, a pivotal figure in the most storied Tipp team of all was, you sensed, suspending his personal trauma to counsel the current centre-back against any loss of hope. Two days after defeat by Limerick in Thurles, Maher would have appreciated that.

Tipp championship losses tend to uncork many different shades of public recrimination and it can't have been easy for the Borrisoleigh man to present himself into that great Newtown throng so soon after Sunday. Few people understood that better than Nealon.

The fall-out to defeat would sharpen later in the week when Noel Dundon penned an extremely forceful comment piece in the 'Tipperary Star,' questioning the coterie of Tipp players who took to two days of drinking "in and around Thurles" following the county's fourth consecutive championship loss.

Dundon drew comparison between the so-called "Monday Club" drinkers of a beaten team and their victors convening, on the same day, for a recovery session at UL Limerick.

There is no doubting that his article faithfully reflected the rising anger of a broad rump of Tipp supporters who see certain elements of the current team as lacking the kind of competitive integrity and selflessness now considered de rigeur in other inter-county camps.

The expectation today is that a county man treats his body as deferentially as a Ming vase, both before and after competition. He is pursuing a challenge (hobby anyone?) where the average body-fat is that of a rope.

DIFFICULTY

So, in and around whatever career he might be hoping to pursue, the county man must live his life as if booked into a health spa.

Tipp's difficulty seems to be that they have those willing to follow that path (Brendan Maher undoubtedly among them) and others inclined to equivocate.

Stories about the social habits of certain players have been recurring ever since Liam Sheedy stepped down as manager after the 2010 All-Ireland win. The concern, since, hasn't even been so much about the drinking they do as the seeming incompetence with which they do it.

The act of irritating people by drawing attention to yourself creates a climate in which wholly imaginary liaisons easily gain credence.

Then run that narrative parallel to Tipp's recent habit of suffering some kind of vertigo in the home straight of big games and it isn't difficult to trace the natives' appetite for recrimination. Tipp, the story goes, should go to battle in cowboy hats, not helmets.

But you have to remind yourself of a number of factors here.

Firstly, Tipp lost the league final to Kilkenny only after extra-time. Secondly, Sunday's two-point defeat to Limerick probably had more to do with defensive indiscipline than lack of stamina. Thirdly, they are amateurs.

In a week when pay-per-view in the GAA is making such headline news, that last one is worth repeating. It is a strange conceit of the modern inter-county life now that amateur sportsmen are meant to live cleaner, more temperate lives than curates on retreat.

Professional rugby and soccer teams routinely unwind with post-game beers, yet the broad preference is that amateur GAA players desist. The earliest Tipp will resume championship action is June 28, yet their supporters will be profoundly unamused by stories of that session.

Dundon's article was, thus, perfectly legitimate because it represented a frustration now widely shared among Tipp hurling people. But it also served to pour an interesting light on the increasingly skewed philosophy of life in the GAA.

The Association insists that pay-for-play is not on the agenda, but, if so, how can we honestly reconcile the juxtaposition between Sky Sports' cameras in Nowlan Park tonight and the outcry over amateur hurlers "drowning their sorrows" last weekend? How is one image compatible with the other?

The elephant in the room is that it isn't.

Defeat pushes strange buttons in a GAA life and, for Tipp, the hope will be that this week's acrimony creates an energy that might just carry them back into contention. But bear in mind that GAA players misbehaving are not in breach of any contract. Not yet at least.

What they break is an age-old duty of trust. And, much as we might not like it, that is no crime.

Hodgson must gamble on young talent

THE best thing Roy Hodgson can do for England now is disregard the bared fangs of the critics and find the courage to gamble.

It's not his natural setting, admittedly, but the same safe conservatism that cursed his short stint as Liverpool manager will, if allowed, doom England to another short, underwhelming World Cup campaign.

Trouble is, Roy can't seem to help himself. After Ross Barkley's impressive display against Ecuador on Wednesday, the manager saw fit to quibble over occasional losses of possession despite a pass-completion percentage in excess of 91pc.

Worse, he talked of Raheem Sterling having "blown" an opportunity to impress because of a red card caused by Antonio Valencia's juvenile overreaction to the Liverpool player's legitimate covering tackle.

The suspicion is that Hodgson's England will be programmed largely for containment in Brazil. Yet, in Barkley and Sterling, they have access to two young players who could give the team seriously innovative attacking vigour.

Cut England loose from the fear of failure and they might do something spectacular. Play the percentages and, chances are, they won't get out of their group.

Hodgson needs to go for glory, not fixate on a gentle strategy of escape.

Celtic new bhoy does not inspire confidence

REBUFFED by Roy Keane, Celtic go instead for the little-known Norwegian, Ronny Deila, to be their new manager.

It could be an inspired choice, of course, given that Deila guided Stromsgodset to a first Norwegian League title in 43 years.

But switching from football's equivalent of Black Sabbath to some Scandanavian mystery man doesn't exactly suggest a crystal clear picture in Celtic minds of the profile of candidate they wanted to replace Neil Lennon.

Irish Independent

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