Sunday 17 December 2017

Too many sacrifices taking enjoyment out of football

It may just be wishful thinking on his part, but Colm O'Rourke has some thoughts on the year ahead

When Shelley wrote the poem Ode to the West Wind a couple of hundred years ago he was hardly thinking of the Allianz League when he finished with the words, "if winter comes, can spring be far behind".

Yet after a battering from the west wind and more to come this week we can at least look forward now to longer days, better weather (hopefully) and maybe even a nice summer. Everyone can dream ahead and although local hostilities have started and nearly finished in the provinces with secondary competitions, next weekend will see the big wheel start to turn again.

Would it be possible that players and managers might talk about enjoying playing as distinct from the satisfaction of winning? Even mentioning this is a definite sign of advancing years as most people prefer to win and to hell with the enjoyment. It would certainly mean the men in white coats coming to pick me up if I suggested that some player might comment in passing that he really enjoyed the game but was very disappointed with losing.

The little boy in everyone should surface occasionally and go back to the time when playing was fun, training was not a gruelling experience, the sacrifices to be fit and healthy were not some sort of dreadful imposition and representing your club or county was not pressure but, dare I say it again, a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Hopefully players won't look like terrified Christians coming into the arena and go out to play with a smile on their faces. I remember Jack O'Shea often appearing as if he was enjoying the prospect of playing when he was parading before big games in Croke Park. It didn't seem to do him any harm; he was certainly one of the best midfielders ever to tog out in the old stadium. Having said that, looking back at photos of Meath teams before big games it is clear that nobody involved would get the nickname 'happy'. We all mellow with age.

Any chance, either, of having less talk about strength and conditioning and more about playing football? There is a danger of the whole gym thing getting out of hand. Football is a game of skill as well as power. Now of course raw strength is an asset, so is speed, agility, mental toughness, ability to kick points, catch high balls, solo, pass move and think quickly.

Strength and conditioning is the buzz phrase at the moment and nobody is considered a footballer unless they have a weights' programme which they are doing every waking moment they are not running or practising skills. Whatever happened to relaxing, recovering and having a varied lifestyle? There should be time to smell the roses.

It puzzles me that one strength and conditioning coach can recommend one set of exercises and weights while another can have an opposite view. When it comes to specialised training for football it should be basically the same for all, rather than some looking for power and others speed and then there are those who want players looking like Russian weightlifters.

At the same time a little bit of gym work for players – even from the age of 14 or 15 – is no harm. It does not have to involve weights at all but more exercises with bars to improve balance and coordination. The biggest weight many young people carry at the moment is their school bag. However, much of the work for either young players or seniors can be carried out just using body weight and players of all ages can do press-ups, sit-ups, planks, pull-ups and all the necessary stretching. This can be done at home. Nothing like 50 press-ups in the morning to get the body warmed up.

Could all cups be presented to the captains of winning teams without a speech? Nobody wants to hear or see anything other than their team getting the cup and listening to whatever the captain has to say. The captain should keep it short too. There is no need to mention 46 people who have contributed to the success with a big cheer for each. Game over, cup, home. Maybe throw in a bit of celebration there if that is what the doctor orders.

How many versions of Amhrán na bhFiann are there? Every year I am amazed at the various speeds the national anthem is sung at and the number who sing it at big events who don't actually know the words at all or are not able to pronounce them properly.

It's not X Factor but at least those charged with performing should be vetted by someone who is competent in the Irish language. Some of course sing it beautifully and at a tempo that can get a man ready for great deeds. It is not La Marseillaise, the national anthem of France which would stir the blood in any sportsman or woman, but at least our own should be given due respect.

Then there are the players' positions while the anthem is played.

A line-up across the pitch with everyone with their arms around each other is now the norm. I much preferred it when players went to their positions and stood beside their man and then the anthem was belted out. It was also an opportunity in the black-and-white days for a corner-back to let a small forward know he was in imminent danger. There were many private battles won and lost before the ball was ever thrown in. The back usually gave the first dig and if it was not replied to with a bit of interest, then you might as well pack up and go home.

Now players line up as if they are afraid to be left on their own and are gaining some type of Dutch courage from the group embrace. What happens when some of them have to do their own dirty work?

There is something very outwardly brave, for a forward particularly, who marches to his position, puts his hands down by his side and stands to attention and ignores everything else going on around. It is his statement of intent, a sign of a man who needs no shepherding and is not going to be intimidated. With that should go the firmest handshake you can manage: look your man in the eye and don't move until the last note is finished. It is a good way to start a big game, or even a small one.

Now that is a whole lot of gripes for the first day back. Hopefully, it might even be the end of them. It will be a great year.

Sunday Indo Sport

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