Saturday 20 January 2018

If Leicester can go from bottom to top why shouldn't every county think bigger?

Fermanagh opted to try and attack Dublin in last year's All-Ireland final. Leicester's ambitious approach has them dreaming of a title
Fermanagh opted to try and attack Dublin in last year's All-Ireland final. Leicester's ambitious approach has them dreaming of a title
Claudio Ranieri’s management of Leicester should be an inspiration to all his GAA counterparts. Photo: Getty
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

At the end of March last year, Leicester City had won four, drawn seven and lost 18 of 29 Premier League games. Since then they have won 22, drawn nine and lost three of 34. Five points clear at the top of the table, nobody can quite understand where the incredible transformation came from.

A fortune wasn't spent in re-building the squad and while a new manager arrived in July, Leicester's surge was already well advanced, having won seven and drawn one of their final nine games last season.

There are lots of theories about what fired the initial turnaround and maintained the solidifying of an effort that appears to defy logic.

Manager Claudio Ranieri simplified it to a level of beautiful innocence this week by suggesting that the success was down to leaving the tactics board idle, allowing the players to eat as much as they want and guaranteeing them at least two days a week off.

Obviously, there's more to it than that but even the highest level of soccer's punditry intelligentsia offer no more insight on the Leicester phenomenon than "they're good on the basics, have huge energy and work very hard for each other".


Plus, of course, they have a finisher in Jamie Vardy who does, well, what finishers are supposed to do - score when chances arrive.

Are any county managers following the Leicester story and wondering if their squads could become the football or hurling equivalent? Why not?

Last spring the difference between Leicester and the so-called English superpowers wasn't just reflected on the league table or in the wealth columns.

It also applied to a perception that any team outside the top six or seven clubs was there as a support act only.

Even if Leicester don't win the title, their progress will have done more to expand the ambitions of other clubs than any amount of money could. Nor should it go unnoticed in GAA-land either, especially in football.

Kilkenny's dominance in hurling since 2000 has been the most pronounced by any county in history, yet there's a greater sense of unease in football, which is the dominant game in more areas.

At least seven other counties believe they have a realistic chance of unseating the Cats in any year and while their strike rate has not been good, they have mostly been competitive.

Football's problem is that the gap between the top teams and the rest is widening. In Leinster, Dublin are now so far ahead that the rest are specks in their rear-view mirrors.

Apart from Dublin, recent evidence suggests that only Kerry, Donegal, Mayo, Cork, Monaghan and Tyrone are genuine All-Ireland contenders. Galway, Meath, Armagh, Kildare, Down, Derry and Laois have slipped alarmingly.

Further down, some teams are taking bigger beatings than used to be the case.

The danger now is that many counties are accepting their subservient role and instead of mobilising everything they have, they look for excuses.

The Championship structure? Sure, it's loaded against the likes of us. Games Development Grants? Sure, Dublin are getting most of the money.

The latter claim became an issue after the publication of the GAA's accounts last week, with some counties grumbling.

Did they demand more for themselves over the years? If they did and were refused, then they have a case. If they didn't, then the fault rests squarely with them.

There's no point moaning about Dublin's allocation unless others can prove that it's reducing their share. Counties have not done that.

Sometime, you get the impression that passing on blame has become a comfortable cop-out for under-achieving counties.

The indisputable reality is that a large number of counties have inferior senior teams than a decade ago. They have to ask themselves why.

It has nothing to do with Dublin or Championship formats.

Meanwhile, perhaps they might take a look at Leicester for inspiration on how to turn things around in one year. If it's possible in soccer (without huge spending) why not in Gaelic football?

Irish Independent

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