Angry fans can raise standards
By Dick Clerkin
As the dust settles on what will arguably go down as the Republic of Ireland’s greatest sporting anti-climax, sports followers in this country can be thankful they have a summer of exciting GAA action as an antidote to the national side’s dreadful Euro 2012 campaign.
While many did their patriotic duty and jumped onboard the bandwagon, I doubt you would have heard too many verses of the Fields of Athenry being sang by the hardcore GAA fraternity.
Not because they don’t support their country, far from it. It is more that they are not accustomed to commending mediocrity and they surely wouldn’t partake in celebrating what was bewildering lack of effort by many of the Irish players.
Páidi Ó Sé was once rounded upon after referring to the Kerry supporters as “f***ing animals”. Certainly in comparison to those in the Gdansk stands last Thursday night, GAA supporters are different animals indeed. GAA supporters are honest, if at times harsh, but the better we all are for it. If you are deserving, they will be the first to congratulate you, however, if a kick in the backside is required that won’t be long coming either.
Over the years I have heard nearly all significant GAA managers of modern times speak in some forum or another. Sometimes their words stick, other speeches wash over as another clichéd pep talk. Back in 2006, our then Monaghan manager, Seamus McEnaney, got the late Eamon Coleman involved prior to our opening championship fixture with Armagh.
One thing he said has resonated with me since: “Even on your worst day, your very worst day, you can always run and tackle.”
As the Fields of Athenry echoed around the Gdansk arena, the oblivious Iniesta and his Spanish orchestra continued to rack up pass after pass.
On the football field some days things just don’t go for you. You can’t get into the game, can’t get the ball in your hands, your passes go astray. We have all had days like that. But as Coleman said, even on those days you can always work hard and put in the tackles. So as I sat and watched Ireland play second fiddle both in football terms and, more worryingly, work rate and application, I couldn’t share the sentiments of the tolerant Irish support.
Performances like that are certainly not tolerated on the GAA terraces and far from singing their hearts out, most GAA supporters would be baying for blood.
If Monaghan put in a performance like the Irish players did last week, far from saluting the songs from the terrace, I would be afraid to show my face for months.
Coming off the pitch in Tullamore last year after our worst championship defeat in years was one of those occasions. As abuse hurtled from the terraces we all knew our reputations had taken a severe hammering. Subconsciously however, answering those critics would have been a major motivating factor when we set out on this year’s campaign.
As a player, over the years I have learned that a key driver for my performance is to answer critics when they appear. Some of my best performances have followed periods of intense scrutiny from both supporters and management.
A drive to prove my critics wrong frequently brings the best out of me. Conversely however, complacency following a back-slapping session can also bring out the worst in me.
Criticism from whatever corner will always be hard to take but I can take comfort in the knowledge that it will most likely drive me on to perform better at the next opportunity. I would reckon that is the case for most GAA players.
Arguably Dublin’s success last year was aided and abetted by those forgettable defeats in Croke Park in previous years. Those ‘animals’ in Kerry are certainly a significant contributing factor to the remarkable successes achieved in that part of the country.
Criticism from GAA supporters can be incredibly harsh and even abusive. However, it is still driven by an honest and genuine desire for success, backboned by an unwavering loyalty and pride in the county or club. Some of my best experiences of our supporters were after agonising defeats. Acknowledging the effort given, they were first to fight our corner. While we will always bemoan the ferocity of our supporters in times of difficulty, we should also thank them for their part in making us strive to maintain our standards. Irish soccer fans could do their team a few favours by balancing their chorus with a few home truths. The Irish players would be much the better for it.
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