Monday 11 December 2017

Martin Breheny: Jim McGuinness lives up to the theory that victors write the history

Jim McGuinness’ account of Donegal’s victory over Dublin doesn’t factor in some of the Dubs’ sloppy finishing on the day which proved very costly
Jim McGuinness’ account of Donegal’s victory over Dublin doesn’t factor in some of the Dubs’ sloppy finishing on the day which proved very costly
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

We have learned a lot in a range of sports over the last ten days. More aptly, perhaps, a whole lot of theory, peddled as certainty, has whooshed across the landscape, gathering force as it swept along.

Just how much of it means anything is impossible to gauge. In fact, you'd be bamboozled by it all.

But don't worry if you feel that you're the only one who doesn't have a strident view on Billy Walsh's departure to the US, the failure of any Six Nations team to reach the rugby World Cup semi-finals or Dónal óg Cusack's link-up with Clare. There are more of you out there than you think.

Talk isn't so much cheap anymore as totally free. Which is why it's always best to make up your own mind.

If even one-tenth of the numbers who claim to know everything about the Walsh saga turned up for the national boxing championships, Croke Park wouldn't be big enough to host them.

That's curious, since the National Stadium has always been adequate before. And guess what? It will continue to be.


And then there is the nouveau rugby fraternity that wanted Joe Schmidt and the Irish squad canonised and given the freedom of every city and town before the World Cup.

Now, Ireland - and the rest of the Six Nations teams - stand accused of using an outdated style that drew hoots of derision from the southern hemisphere lot as they gleefully dismantled the naive ones.

Never mind that Scotland were robbed of a place in the semi-final by a wrong refereeing decision and that both Ireland and Wales were decimated by injury - the prevailing view holds that the northern hemisphere is out of date and sterile.

The old saying that 'history is written by the victors' has never been more apt than how it applies in modern sport. In an age of micro-analysis, it's all comes down to this: winners, right; losers, wrong.

Thus, the winning manager is invariably superior to his rival, irrespective of the circumstances. And if you doubt that, check the post-match TV analysis in all sports, where the clips are almost so that they show the winners as being infinitely smarter than the losers.

Which brings me to Jim McGuinness' account in his book of Donegal's win over Dublin in last year's All-Ireland semi-final.

You will recall how Donegal won by six points after going into the game as long-odds outsiders. They did it after trailing by five points in the first half, having also had let-offs when poor finishing denied Dublin two goals.

So instead of trailing by 2-9 to 0-4, which would have been a fair reflection of the first 25 minutes Donegal were still hanging on.

To their great credit, they launched a spectacular recovery, winning the rest of the game by 3-10 to 0-8.

McGuinness was immediately hailed as a genius while Jim Gavin was depicted as naive and maybe even a little over-confident.

In his book, McGuinness writes that at the last Donegal squad meeting before the game he scrawled a prediction of the final score on a blackboard.

Donegal 3-16 Dublin 0-12.

"That was the final score we were banking on. It actually ended 3-14 to 0-17. It wasn't actually that far off the mark because Dublin kicked some unbelievable points in the first 10 minutes of the game," he writes.

Fortified by such an incredible sense of confidence, despite beating a moderate Armagh team by a single point in the quarter-final, the Donegal team took on the bookies for a tidy little coup.

"They had a few hundred euro on themselves. And we knew leaving the hotel we were going to win," writes McGuinness.

Really? And did they still know it when they trailed by five points in the first half, having avoided an 11-point deficit purely because of sloppy finishing by Dublin? McGuinness was eulogised after that win, while Gavin was accused of deploying a system that was waiting to be unravelled.

A month later, Kerry beat Donegal in the All-Ireland and final and Eamonn Fitzmaurice replaced McGuinness at the head of the tactics pyramid.

That it was a kick-out error by Paul Durcan which handed Kerry the initiative at a crucial stage mattered little in the McGuinness v Fitzmaurice debate.

Kerry had won so Fitzmaurice was the man. Meanwhile, McGuinness was roundly criticised for starting 18-year-old Darach O'Connor.

A year on, McGuinness is out of Gaelic football; Gavin has returned to fashion as the tactical supremo, supplanting Fitzmaurice, who shipped criticism after Kerry's All-Ireland final defeat by Dublin.

The trouble with this type of superficial rating pattern, where winning and losing, based on the most recent results, become the only source of opinion-forming, is that it ignores other realities. Among them is the most basic of all: the quality of players on various teams.

Never mind, it's much easier to vilify the losers. Pat Holmes, Noel Connelly and Anthony Cunningham know all about it.

Irish Independent

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