Sunday 21 January 2018

Off The Ball: Weather part of the reason for lack of sporting creativity

New Zealand's Dan Carter holds off France's Pascal Pape just before his daring reverse pass that had audiences 'oohing and aahing'
New Zealand's Dan Carter holds off France's Pascal Pape just before his daring reverse pass that had audiences 'oohing and aahing'

Joe Molloy

Looking at the Rugby World Cup and our Euro 2016 adventure and the GAA season as a whole, it feels like a certain attitude continues to hang over Irish sport.

Sport is nothing if not another form of expression. It has been forever striking that so many of the most creative forces on a field are the least communicative of people away from it. I forever love watching the shy types, like Wes Hoolahan and Peter Beardsley, who step over a white line and suddenly demand all available attention and responsibility. Their altered state oozes a comfort level, which you suspect they never quite find anywhere else.

For those of us looking on, it is a lovely thing when sport becomes more about expression than rolling up sleeves and fighting. Instinctively it looks right. I respect and admire the grinders, greatly. But I love the expressive types.

A case in point was Saturday night when New Zealand played the French. A bunch of us gathered in front of a giant tv screen. You'll remember when Dan Carter popped that underarm reverse pass out wide to set up a try. Gorgeous. And it prompted something in the room; an involuntary kind of 'Oooooohhhhh' amongst strangers. The slow motion replays provoked more appreciation, even some laughter.


Of course we were admiring the skill and the artistry, but it's ultimately the attitude which is so pleasing. When Hoolahan nutmegs an opponent and crafts an angled ball with the outside of his foot, he is expressing something of himself. It is far more than just perfunctory.

It seems as a sporting nation we're less inclined to produce that kind of football or rugby or GAA. Sometimes I honestly just blame the weather.

The expressive types aren't built for muddy pitches in November. The wind and rain inform so many aspects of our culture; sport clearly isn't immune. You take that muddy pitch, and throw in the inevitable pressures on developing players to win the schools cup or county final and suddenly 'expressing yourself' with any kind of freedom is less of a priority.

The painful irony of course, as demonstrated by Argentina on Sunday, is that free-flowing, expressive play generally triumphs when it is fully realised. Getting to that point means accepting mistakes.

Would we accept a bad Six Nations? Increasingly I'm coming around to the notion that we do have the skill-set to do a lot more on various fronts. Take the Poland match last week in Warsaw. Our approach was stilted and riddled with fear and way below what so many of our players could produce, if they'd taken some risks. I appreciate I'm in the cheap seats, but careers are short. Why not let go a bit more?

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