Sport Hurling

Thursday 28 August 2014

Martin Breheny: Spot the odd one out

Martin Breheny

Published 23/01/2013 | 05:00

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SOMEONE once defined an expert as a self-promoter living sufficiently far from home that neighbours can't be asked what he/she is really like and who talks a good show, preferably in a different accent to the targets of the perceived wisdom.

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A tad cynical perhaps, then again perhaps not. Well, not always anyway. Irish rugby has certainly been impressed by the 'far from home', 'different accent' qualifications, engaging in a big import trade from the southern hemisphere. So much so that Eddie O'Sullivan is no longer getting a look-in, despite his proven record.

Such, it appears, is the price for living in Galway and speaking with a Cork accent rather than a Down Under twang. Still, it's good to see that an Armagh accent hasn't come against Enda McNulty, newly appointed sports psychologist to the Irish rugby team.

It's an interesting choice as McNulty's sporting background is, of course, hewn from the GAA fields of Armagh and beyond.

Obviously, he has also acquired the necessary academic qualifications to enable him to work as a sports psychologist but he will always be best known as an Armagh footballer who helped the county to a first All-Ireland senior title in 2002.

Coming a few months after Celtic signed up Donegal manager Jim McGuinness as part of their backroom team, his appointment is a double endorsement of the expertise in the GAA.

That shouldn't be a surprise, of course, given the sophistication levels which apply in the preparation of hurling and football teams.

However, there has been a tendency to undervalue it on the basis that it caters solely for amateur sports, played mainly in Ireland. Sure what could it add to the store of international sporting knowledge?

Intelligence for a start. Many of the brightest people in Irish sport are involved in the GAA in various capacities so it's natural that when it comes to the psychological dimension, they can easily make the switch to other disciplines. After all, bright is bright, wherever it shines.

That's why it will be very interesting to track how McGuinness and McNulty get on with Celtic and Ireland respectively. McNulty is facing the more immediate challenge, working with the Irish rugby squad in the up-coming Six Nations.

Of course, he's in a win-win situation. If Ireland do particularly well, credit will flow his way but if they flop, he won't be blamed since he will only have been there for a short period.

The GAA world will be happy for McNulty that international rugby has recognised his talents but here's a thought: did Declan Kidney consider turning to another GAA man, who takes a rather jaundiced view of sports psychology in a formal sense but who has achieved more success than anyone else in the history of the Association?

Enter Brian Cody, a man for whom Kidney clearly has a high regard. Indeed, he expressed the extent of his admiration when penning the foreword to Cody's autobiography in 2009.

Kidney wrote of Cody's "philosophies and core beliefs", of his "complete honesty" and of how "uncomplicated he makes life out to be."

"Though sometimes when you meet a man with principles and core values as strong as Brian's you may not agree with them all, it's always refreshing and inspirational to meet a person like Brian Cody, who presents himself to you as he is, with no pretensions to be anyone other than himself," he wrote.

McNulty has been brought in for his psychological, rather than his rugby expertise.

Suffice to say, his approach would be different to that of Cody, who harbours a certain scepticism of sports psychology.

"As far as I'm concerned, the best part of sports psychology majors on logic and common sense, both of which are pretty basic requirements in management anyway," wrote Cody.

"To that extent, we all use a degree of psychology but it's not something I have studied or have any interest in acquiring second-hand.

"I'm not quite sure how bombarding a hurler with borrowed mumbo-jumbo with do anything to help a forward get around a defender on a wet Sunday in March or how it will help a back to close down his opponent on a scorching hot championship Sunday in Croke Park."

Kidney obviously wants to go the formal psychology route but the Cody way might be just as good. It has certainly delivered for Kilkenny.

Pre-season silverware bodes ill for Sam glory

A relatively benign January – up to this week at least – has enabled the provinces to keep their busy pre-season schedules on track, and with a rise in temperatures forecast before the weekend, it's likely that the four football finals will be completed by Sunday

There has been some pretty competitive fare across the provinces, producing an interesting mix of rivalries in the finals.

I don't want to alarm any of the finalists – in particular, Dublin, Kerry, Kildare and Tyrone, who are genuine All-Ireland contenders – but winners of pre-season tournaments tend to have a cold relationship with Sam Maguire.

In fact, with the exception of the team managed by Mickey Harte (above), who won the McKenna Cup and All-Ireland titles in 2005, no other county in football has mixed pre-season success with September glory in the new millennium.

However, the same doesn't apply in hurling where Kilkenny have combined Walsh Cup and All-Ireland success on no fewer than four occasions over the last seven seasons.

Mullane rare case in taking his medicine

JOHN Mullane recounted in his retirement interviews how there was no shortage of willing contributors who were prepared to fund court action in an attempt to release him from suspension when he was due to miss the 2004 All-Ireland semi-final after being sent off in the Munster final

Mullane gallantly refused the offers, opting instead to take his punishment.

Back then, seeking court injunctions to enable suspended players to play in major games was a thriving business, with plenty of backers (usually anonymously) putting up the required money.

It would probably still be the same but for the establishment of the GAA's Disputes Resolution Authority (DRA).

It has worked extremely well, leading to much fewer challenges to decisions, certainly in disciplinary matters.

Indeed, appeals generally have decreased in recent years as the procedures have been tightened up, while recourse to courts is largely a thing of the past.

As for all those who were prepared to fund court actions, I wonder have they been as generous in supporting their clubs with more mundane bills over recent years.

Irish Independent

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