MIKE QUIRKE: We’ve become blind to the positives of football

Each January starts the same way for every club and county. It’s the one month in the GAA calendar that is universally filled with hope and optimism.

There are 40 bodies at every session. Fellas are off the drink and they haven’t eaten a carbohydrate since New Year’s Day. The diet plan is in full swing and everybody is loving the Pilates classes at 6am three mornings a week. “There’ll be no stone left unturned this year lads…”

Westmeath players celebrate their victory over Dublin last week in the O’Byrne Cup final at Parnell Park, Dublin. We’re so conditioned to see negatives in Gaelic football, sometimes we can’t recognise the positives, says Mike Quirke. Picture: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The goal will be different for every team; it could be to stay in a division, or to gain a promotion, to win a league, a county or provincial championship or maybe the big one. But everybody sets out with a similar mentality: This year will be the year it all clicks.

Most managers or coaches are happy enough right about now, they haven’t lost any games just yet.

The buzz is there. Everybody is happy. The sense of optimism is still palpable.

Only once you drop a couple of big games does the mood starts to shift.

Instead of foam rolling on a Friday night in front of the Late Late, fellas are more likely to opt for the takeaway and a few beers to wash it down. Numbers start to fall off at training and slowly but surely everything is no longer looking quite as a rosy as it was on the first of January.

Perspective changes everything. Once the hope and positivity is gone from anything, it’s like swimming against the current to try and get it back.

In April of last year, Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) chief Todd Greenberg initiated a social media campaign to ‘Talk the Game Up’.

The concept was fairly simple.

“We will always be debating the performances of clubs, players, administrators, referees, rules, etc but if you love rugby league then talk it up and share your positivity. Ignore the crisis merchants and support your club and the game! #NRLTalkTheGameUp” — Todd Greenberg.

I couldn’t help but think how badly the GAA and inter-county football, in particular, could desperately do with a similar initiative.

Of course, I’m not suggesting for a moment that we bury our heads and blindly ignore the obvious challenges and inequalities that exist within our game, but it is equally important to balance that acknowledgment of the negative with an appreciation of the positive aspects of the game also.

Some perspective if you will.

We all know that the prevalence of hand passing has risen like a scourge in response to the overly defensive game planning of coaches the length and breadth of the country. But according to the statistics, scoring numbers have also trended upwards since the turn of the century. So too the number of goals being converted.

There were no mass zone defences 20 years ago, but somehow teams are scoring much more now than they did back then.

That’s surely a positive? But how many times do you hear about it?

The game is literally in a paradoxical state whereby defensive structures are the focus of most analysis and coaching, yet the scoring totals continue to creep up.

The unyielding barrage of negative spin affects all of us in the way we have come to perceive the game. Moments of brilliance get swallowed up by the swale of complaining about the number of bodies back behind the ball or the number of hand passes it took to create a score. Or ‘the players are all robots and nobody is enjoying what they’re doing’.

Why not try to appreciate the skill of the movement to create space when it happens, the anticipation, the touch, and the execution of the score, or the block down or whatever piece of skill takes your fancy. Instead the constant bitching and moaning about everything in the game spreads like a vomiting bug in a public hospital.

Oscar Wilde once told us that “we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.

Life and sport are as much about your perception of your own context. The lens through which you choose to look

at any situation can profoundly affect your response to that event.

Think about it, we’re being conditioned by what we constantly hear, watch and read to see Gaelic football as something increasingly repugnant.

And it’s difficult to steel yourself against it.

I went to watch IT Tralee play Sligo IT in the Sigerson Cup during the week and Tralee put on an exhibition of football.

Some of the movement, kick-passing and score taking from the hosts was the way you would dream the game should be played. The final tally of 6-20 to 1-9 was an accurate reflection of the mismatch it turned out to be.

On my way out of the game, I walked out with a couple of Tralee supporters, and instead of talking about how well the Tralee team had performed, we spent the two minute walk to the car park lamenting just how terrible the Sligo outfit were. Go figure that one out. One team had just nearly broken a Sigerson scoring record playing sublime stuff, and I immediately find myself in a conversation with people who only wanted to talk about the poor standard of play from the visitors.

It kind of sums up where Gaelic football is right now. We’re becoming so conditioned to seek out the negative, we’re losing our ability to even identify with the positive aspects of the game.

They may be fewer, but they are still there and need to be highlighted by those who love and care about the game. We can still voice our concerns and call out for change, but we mustn’t lose our ability to find joy in moments when the game is played with a touch of magic. We’ll see plenty of terrible stuff over the next few weeks of this league campaign, but we’ll get brilliance too.

Don’t be afraid to say when you see it, and talk the game up when it deserves it.


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