independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Fun factor gone out of football as pressure now name of game

IT'S a clash of two powerhouses of the club scene at Croke Park tomorrow. One is back after a time in the wilderness; the other is always there or thereabouts.

But there's no doubt that St Vincent's versus Nemo Rangers represents a meeting of great traditions. At various stages down the years both have enjoyed utter dominance in their respective counties and I'm sure the Dublin club are delighted to be back in an All-Ireland final after what must have felt to them like a long 32 years.

Certainly, it's great for them to be back and it's great for their manager Mickey Whelan too. He was a player the last time they won and he has done a marvellous job now as manager.

But having said that, I have a quiet fancy for the Cork lads this time. And 'quiet' certainly seems to be the right word as far as they are concerned -- there hasn't been a squeak out of them in the build-up. I'd be afraid for Vincent's that the media interest in their return to the big stage has put them under added pressure and has effectively led to a situation where Nemo are viewed as the underdogs. They are old masters at this level and will relish the fact that they will slip into Croke Park tomorrow almost unnoticed.

Clearly it's a serious business at this level, and that's as it should be, but I've been wondering recently if our game has become too serious at all levels.

I was talking to former Cork footballer Kevin Ger O'Sullivan recently and he feels all the fun has gone out of football. There is, he says, no time for relaxing for the modern player.

I think Kevin Ger is right to a point too. Gaelic football is now serious stuff -- at any level -- and the days of meeting up with your opponents after a game, whether you won or lost, are well and truly over. Now, even when a game is finished, a player is not off duty. Immediately after the final whistle teams have a series of rituals designed to help the recovery process begin quickly. There's warm downs and swimming pools and massages and all that. In effect, preparation for the next game begins straightaway.

We took our football seriously in my day -- you couldn't be as successful as we were if you didn't -- but enjoying your football was important too. And I'm not just talking about the social side, I'm talking about on the pitch too.

I'm sure players nowadays do enjoy it, why else would they do it if they didn't? There is enjoyment to be had in preparing for important games for your club or county but I wonder if they can enjoy the extra pressures that are there now. It's probably more important than ever before to be able to relax but if you are carrying around diet sheets and curfew orders for 11 months of the year, how relaxed can you really be? Our modern society is a pressurised environment for our young people so should there not be an element of release when they go to play football?

We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that it's an amateur game. It's not fair on lads that every single game they play every year must be won at all costs. We need to lighten up I think.

Following hot on the heels of that conversation with Kevin Ger was my own football tournament in West Kerry. We had eight teams taking part and the feedback afterwards was very positive. I think they all enjoyed the experience of playing football without the usual pressures heaped on their shoulders. Limerick champions Ballylanders played my own team An Ghaeltacht and they told me afterwards how much they enjoyed it.

I'd say a lot of the fun for the clubs that took part was the fact that they were playing against teams they wouldn't normally come up against. That's the secret of the success of tournaments like this: they relish the new environment and the fact that they are all away together bonding with each other and with other clubs for the weekend.

Two teams got three games, four got two and I think next year I'll have a look at that situation to ensure every team gets to play at least twice. Double the fun if you like.

Waterford club Kilrossanty really brightened up the whole occasion. Apart from the players, they brought a coach-load of fans and they added to the event with their cheery approach to everything. This is a club I was really impressed with -- they're progressive and have a great attitude.

One of their number told me an interesting tale concerning the origin of Kerry's famous green and gold jerseys. He said the Kingdom came to Kilrossanty many moons ago to take on Waterford but arrived without their jerseys. The local club came to the rescue and the visitors donned the green and gold of Kilrossanty -- and so happy were they with the outcome they stuck to those colours ever since. Fun indeed.

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