Wednesday 20 November 2019

Players should take a closer look at their own failings

It is vital that those who wield the big stick of power talk softly, warns Páidí ó Sé

A LITTLE self-knowledge is a dangerous thing, a friend of mine used to say in jest. Maybe he had a point, but too little self-knowledge is a downright menace.

Player power is on the rampage these days and I have to put it to the militant footballers and hurlers: how much honest self-examination do you really do?

Power is a complex thing and there aren't many people who, once they attain it, can resist the temptation to abuse it.

I watch in amazement as, in county after county, players -- some among the great mediocrities in the game -- blame the manager for everything that goes wrong, seek to have him fired and generally behave like megalomaniacs. This fairly new phenomenon can be put down, at least in part, to the high-profile personality-driven cult of the manager.

When you have got a big name and a big personality to train your guns on, it makes for good copy for newspapers, good radio and television, and high-powered drama. But is it the truth about what's really going on?

I know that, when I was a manager, if three or four players -- never mind a whole squad -- had mutinied, I would have packed my bags and quit. Life's too short for that sort of thing. I'm amazed to see how many besieged managers dig their heels in and seem prepared to go through a form of purgatory in order to hold on to their jobs.

I know from my own career as a player that, if I was dropped (as I was once for a Munster final) or taken off, my first reaction was to make excuses for myself and to avoid serious self-critical examination. It was only some time later, when my emotions had settled down, that I might begin to see things more clearly and perhaps to seriously question whether there was a rational basis for the treatment meted out to me.

Malcontentedness is contagious and it can take only a few stirrers of trouble in the squad to start things rolling, after which it can take off like wildfire and the county board and/or the manager have a full-scale revolt on their hands. These are highly trained, highly motivated and usually self-confident young men who would be tricky enough to handle at the best of times.

It seems to me that the advent of professional provincial rugby was a sort of watershed. GAA players are professionals playing in games that are still amateur. Their commitment, their training, their schedules, their coaching, their discussions, their analysis, their homework are all at the top of the range as far as professionalism is concerned. Even junior teams today are applying professional standards.

GAA players saw young men they knew, some of them former Gaelic stars themselves, who were making large sums of money playing Heineken Cup rugby for Munster, Leinster and so on. They wouldn't be human if they didn't feel envious of the money being made by some of their peers in another code and this can be a source of the frustration that all too often spills over in the form of player mutiny.

Personally, I don't know how Justin McCarthy puts up with it in Limerick. Here is a man who could make a hurley talk and who is a genius on the technical side of the game, with a great track record with clubs and counties. There are others who say that his training methods are outdated. I don't know enough about hurling to arbitrate on that one.

As far as Richie Connor of Offaly is concerned, you could not have a more passionate football family or a more passionate Offaly player and manager than the Connors and than Richie himself.

Another piece of advice I would like to impart to county boards, managers and players alike is Teddy Roosevelt's maxim: "Talk softly, but carry a big stick."

Each of the three elements I have named can wield considerable power if they are so minded, but it should be used with discretion and with an eye to the bigger picture -- the good of the county. Such balances are delicate and it would require a PhD in the art of politics, or a graduate of the Bertie Ahern school of music, to get it right all the time.

But the sheer naked abuse of power such as we have seen from players in recent times is not in the best interests of the games, their counties or, I believe, the players themselves.

So, my last word for this week on the player power controversy is to urge these young men to get real, to get positive and to stop whingeing and griping about imagined wrongs, or even some real ones.

Another tip to managers: I found it was vital to have a good working relationship with the county board chairman and I believe I achieved this with Seán Kelly and Seán Walsh of Kerry, Dennis Coyne of Westmeath and Michael McDonagh of Clare.

A good county chairman has his finger on the pulse and can spot very early on when trouble is brewing among the players. If he passes this information on, things can be nipped in the bud before the contagion spreads. We haven't heard the last on this subject and, sadly, it's going to be with us for some time to come.

Last Thursday, I was on the road to Castlebar when I got a call from my sports editor, John Greene.

"Where are you?" he asked. "I'm on the road to Mayo."

"Oh, so you got the call from the county board? What will John O'Mahony say?" he said.

"No, no, no," I insisted. "I am going to Castlebar to meet Cora Staunton, a great footballer from the Carnacon club, who are coming down to Kerry to play in the Páidí ó Sé tournament at the end of February."

"You're a brave man to be heading up that country after what you wrote," he said.

What could I do but laugh. I suppose he's right, but that's the thing about the GAA: we'll have our odd differences along the way for sure, but at the end of the day we're all one big happy, if occasionally somewhat dysfunctional, family.

Sunday Independent

The Left Wing: Champions Cup returns, Jacob Stockdale's development, and Simon Zebo goes back to Munster

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport