Sunday 22 April 2018

Comment - Quick-fire pundits stray into nonsense territory

Reading too much into victory or defeat leaves many counties with a skewed version of reality

Having taken plenty of criticism after Roscommon’s relegation in the league, manager Kevin McStay was fully entitled to revel in the delight of winning a Connacht title. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Having taken plenty of criticism after Roscommon’s relegation in the league, manager Kevin McStay was fully entitled to revel in the delight of winning a Connacht title. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The world of absolutes has never been more absolute. Derek McGrath is a genius, Kieran Kingston an inspiration, Kevin McStay a tactical mastermind with celestial wisdom.

It follows that if they and their teams were the big success stories of the weekend, their beaten rivals were failures. A touch simplistic but that's how modern-day sport crumbles its cookies.

Games are presented in the most spectacular colour and the highest of definition but judgments come in the starkest black-and-white.

Granted, there are varying degrees, ranging from social media's disturbing level of viciousness to TV's transparent self-obsession as it strives to make pundits more important than players, a pursuit enthusiastically embraced by many of the analysts.

Balance is a diminishing currency, with real values regarded as dispensable. Winners are presented as brimming with talent and smartness, which must be revered to the point of idolatry. Losers are portrayed as mediocre so let the incompetents have it between the eyes.

Take Kevin McStay. He was subjected to nasty, personal criticism as Roscommon battled through a difficult Division 1 campaign. That they were in the top eight and ahead of several counties with bigger populations and a deeper tradition of success was ignored in favour of the skewed view that since they slipped in the relegation zone it had to be McStay's fault.

Three months later, he's portrayed as a managerial sage, blessed with remarkable insights. Judging by his comments last Sunday, he holds a more pragmatic view. "You lose and you are useless, you win and you are mighty. I guess we (Roscommon) are somewhere in the middle," he said.


Across the corridor, Kevin Walsh would have known what lay ahead. He and the Galway team had attracted lots of praise after the win over Mayo and now they could prepare for the backlash. And it came too, certainly in the sewer regions of social media where they were subjected to appalling abuse.

Two hours after the beatification of McStay and Roscommon, Cork hurlers were hoisted onto a lofty pedestal after winning the Munster title exactly one year after losing to Wexford in an All-Ireland qualifier.

The prognosis after that defeat was grim. We were told that Cork were stuck in a time warp, with little prospects of escape in the foreseeable future. The county board were accused of putting the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh before the actual games and of not caring about core responsibilities.

Manager Kieran Kingston escaped heavy criticism after the Wexford defeat but only because it was his first year in charge. Even then, he took the occasional dart for playing a sweeper system that backfired against Tipperary in the Munster quarter-final.

Liam Dunne, the then-Wexford manager, said this week that he was repeatedly told after the qualifier win that they had beaten the 'worst-ever Cork team'.

"Some turnaround if that's the case," he said. Fifteen of the 20 Cork men who played against Wexford last year, featured last Sunday, ten as starters.

Then there's Waterford. McGrath is a Déise Deity after presiding over a first championship win against Kilkenny for 58 years. But even as his back took all the congratulatory slaps on Saturday, he would not have forgotten the stinging criticisms which came his way following's Waterford's defeat by Cork last month.

Nor was it the first time he had taken some hits during his four seasons in charge. Brian Cody wasn't blamed specifically for the defeat by Waterford, but his longevity at the helm prompted the question as to whether he should continue now that Kilkenny are in transition. Even ignoring the 2000-2009 glory decade, Kilkenny won four of the last six All-Ireland titles and reached another final. This year, they were eliminated after extra-time by a side that have been consistently in the top four.

Yet, because Kilkenny have dropped back a little, the manager who oversaw all the success is having his future discussed around the country. And don't rule out an attention-seeking, if utterly illogical, 'WHY CODY SHOULD GO' piece by next weekend.

Quick-fire opinions, based purely on the most recent happenings, need to be regarded as the nonsense that they are. It wouldn't matter if they had no impact but that's not always the case.

This year's hurling campaign tells us that competitiveness at the top end is extremely intense in a system which works well. Yet, despite that, there's a plan to turn the Leinster and Munster championships into leagues next year. It's a mistake.


And since it came about as a response to the introduction of the 'Super 8' in football, it carries even more risks of damaging hurling.

Meanwhile in football, Dublin's dominance in Leinster (unless, of course, Kildare break it next Sunday) has been put forward as one reason to introduce a secondary championship. That's despite the counties at which it would be aimed having no interest. But then knee-jerk reactions are easy. And since they can be dressed up in controversial garb, attention is guaranteed.

That's illustrated by the weary recall of the Sky/GAA deal to the agenda. Facilitated by the 'Sunday Game' (surprise, surprise, RTé think it's a bad idea to have Sky in the market) and backed up by, among others, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association, it's high on emotion, low on practicality.

Besides, RTé's position comes across as shameless hypocrisy, given that they conceded the rights to league and All-Ireland club action a long time ago, leaving them with no 'live' GAA games between the end of September and mid-May.



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