It may have been a year of Olympic and Paralympic medals, of another Irish golf Major and a breakthrough All-Ireland but it was Jonathan Wilson’s book on Brian Clough that got me thinking about Shane Lowry.
Back in 1984, Old Big ’Ead’s Nottingham Forest side was drawn against Celtic in the quarter-final of the Uefa Cup and looked in trouble after the first leg ended in a goalless stalemate at the City Ground.
Meetings between English and Scottish sides were far more of a rarity then than they are now in these days of excessive games and bloated competitions and Cloughie’s lot were warned to expect a hostility of extreme proportions in Glasgow.
His approach to it was the stuff of genius.
First order of business on arrival at Glasgow Airport was a stop-off at the pub owned by Celtic manager David Hay with Clough telling the barman on the way out that his managerial counterpart would pick up the tab for the pints.
From there it was off to their digs in Troon for a round of golf and another few bevvies and so it continued the next day with another 18 holes for those who fancied it and a lunch down by the harbour that was washed down by a drop of wine.
“We didn’t train at all until the Wednesday,” defender Paul Hart told Wilson for his excellent biography of Clough, Nobody Ever Says Thank You, “and even that was very light, just by the side of the golf course.”
The coach journey to Parkhead was passed with an impromptu quiz and the horizontal approach worked. Celtic and ‘The Jungle’ were tamed courtesy of an easier-than-it-reads 2-1 win.
That may have been an extreme example but it was emblematic of Clough’s attitude to training: it wasn’t unusual for him to make his first appearance of the week at a Friday session with his squash racket in hand.
Clough’s attitude was that he had assembled all the parts and he trusted them — and his own judgement — to deliver on a Saturday afternoon. Lowry is by no means so laissez-faire but there are strains of Clough’s approach to his career as a pro golfer.
The Offaly man’s insistence on walking his own path is well-known and he gave an interview to one Sunday newspaper last month in which he spoke about his tendency to make for the clubhouse rather than the driving range once done with the 18th green.
It is an attitude that contrasts starkly with most of his colleagues.
Rory McIlroy tweeted a photo of himself working his abs in the gym early in 2012 while Paul Keane’s book, Obsessed, detailed the extraordinary lengths Padraig Harrington goes to pursue his passion.
For many people, Lowry’s approach doesn’t stand up well when placed alongside such exertions. The perception is that he is somehow failing to maximise the talents at his disposal and, who knows, maybe he is.
But maybe he isn’t.
Matthew Syed argued in Bounce that top-class sportspeople are not born but made by endless practise and God knows Lowry had already topped the famed 10,000-hour mark long before his horizons extended beyond Esker Hills.
Eric Lindros, an old Canadian ice hockey player, was among the first to point out that it wasn’t just a question of quantity when it came to practise but quality as well. That was back in the 1970s and it holds just as true in the 21st century.
We have already witnessed a less-is-more revolution when it comes to training in sports such as the GAA but, for a pursuit which revels to the extent it does in the brilliance of individuals, sport in general can be a painfully homogenised affair.
Stray from the path of accepted wisdom and orthodoxy, as Lowry dares to do, and you risk being mocked and mauled by the cult of consensus that makes Pied Pipers out of the minority and copycats of everyone else.
All of which is why we should embrace the Lowrys, the Matthew Le Tissiers who ignore the advances of big clubs to spend a career with Southampton or the Johnny Pilkingtons who sneak in a quick fag at half-time.
Le Tissier and Pilkington didn’t exactly do badly for themselves and neither is Lowry. The man from Clara began 2012 ranked 119th in the world and finished it 67 places higher after a storming end to the season.
It could have been even better had he not succumbed to illness just before the season-ending Dubai World Championship but the fact is that he has done it by doing it his way and that is to be admired.
That he won the Portugal Masters on the back of a break-up with his girlfriend and a week bereft of preparation, mental or physical, only serves to highlight that the commandments for sporting success are not chiselled for eternity on stone tablets.
For that he should be celebrated.
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