Sunday 17 November 2019

Johnny Fallon: Why FG are the Man City of the political premier league...and FF are poor old Liverpool

SUMMER has brought many sporting highs and lows from Euro 2012 to the Olympics. They offered a break from the normal cycle of political stories. August is traditionally silly season but it is also the time when politicians start to think of the new term and the challenges they are about to face. Meanwhile, over in England football teams are getting themselves ready for a new season and I could not help but feel there were certain similarities between both. I am always tempted to compare parties to football teams as the season kicks off.

Fine Gael is Manchester City for me. They go into the new season as the reigning champions. They have bridged a long gap in their history to finally become the dominant force. They have the cash and the sponsors to do more than they could ever have hoped before. Make no mistake though; Enda Kenny has the stamp of Roberto Mancini. That title win saved his job. People still question his ability though, is it all talk and bluster backed up by nothing more than being in the right place at the right time?

Any fall off in form and eyes will turn to the management and seek change.

Then there is the team itself, a huge squad has been assembled but one cannot ignore the feeling that it is a team of individuals all working to their own agenda. There are personal gripes and issues still at play and one cannot rely on harmony within the camp for every encounter.

Labour look a lot like Tottenham Hotspur. Good results have put them in a position they are not accustomed to, close to the top of the table. The new season brings challenges and doubts. Can they hold that position, can they keep those results up? The expectations are high and the pressure even more so with every team around them looking to dislodge them. They need to stamp their authority early on and achieve some big wins or the camp could very quickly descend into anarchy.

Fianna Fail must now be Liverpool. The trophy room still hauntingly decorated by the illustrious achievements of teams past. Now they find themselves in a much weaker position, the dream of being top dog, that they once took for granted, now seems an impossible task.

Financial woes limit their ability to regain a foothold at the top. They are desperately trying to reform and restructure. Every so often a little win gives a glimmer of hope, but the new management has an awful lot to prove and there remain serious question marks over the current squad that they are forced to carry on with. There is a make or break feeling about this season. Either they show definite signs of being reborn or some fans may just start giving up the ghost.

Sinn Fein will be thrilled to know that they are Celtic. But apart from the obvious there are other reasons to make the comparison. With their bitter rivals of many years no longer being in a truly competitive situation with them any more they are looking for new challenges. They have been big fish in a small pond for a long time. They jealously eye other leagues for the possibility of making advancement there. Their own support means they are not short of cash but doubts remain. Can they really compete with the big guns? They talk a good game, they make all the right sounds but when push comes to shove can they deliver?

They have experience but many will still doubt the quality of that experience. Having made strides there remains a lot to be done to bridge the gap between themselves and Manchester City for instance.

The Green Party are Wolves. Having strived for so long to finally make that breakthrough they saw it all swept from under them in an instant. A few years mixing with the big boys has left them relegated and back where they were. Rebuilding is going to be some task, but they exist in an area with good history and devout followers who will ensure they struggle on but getting back in the game will not be easy.

Meanwhile, those in the technical group are like the array of soccer pundits. They all know how to do everything but none of them will ever actually do it. Their voice is necessary, and often worthy, but they are equally inclined to put their foot in it or offend someone.

Stephen Donnelly is a political Alan Hansen. We know he has had the technical ability, serious experience and can be likeable. But it’s never a good goal, it’s always bad defending and we are always left wondering why he isn’t with a team doing the job himself.

Luke Flanagan is Eamon Dunphy, often funny and cantankerous at the same time, sometimes strong, but too often controversial just for the sake of it. Shane Ross is Johnny Giles, always knowledgeable, even respected, but always quick to point out what he would have done or what he once said: ‘It wasn’t like that in my day Bill’.

There are other Independents, but you get the picture ...

That leaves us with the United Left Alliance. They are not really a team and look, more like a set of rugby fans that ended up in a soccer stadium. You can try forcing them to play but they are not going to accept the basic premise of the rules of the game to begin with.

So when you arrive to kick off you are going to be asked why we must play with a round ball in the first place?

In time, and with enough support, they will set up their own league and everyone will operate by their rules.

Johnny Fallon is an author and political commentator

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