“Then you must eschew all of that and quickly become what is known in normal society as a sociopath — a person who follows their own ambition at whatever costs to others.” — Graeme Obree
Any hurler, footballer or manager who wants to cultivate the mindset of a successful competitor should get their hands on The Obree Way: a training manual for cyclists. The last chapter, The Dichotomy of Sport, is essential reading.
Written by Graeme Obree, a self-taught genius who broke the world hour record on two occasions, the book is targeted specifically at cyclists.
However, the last chapter is relevant to anyone who enters a competitive arena.
Obree’s philosophy is simple. Sport “is total war”. To succeed, Obreebelieves we “need to overturn generations of civilising and years of personal conditioning to reach back to a mindset that can best be described as primal”.
The former cyclist advises his reader to “become, literally, a controlled maniac”.
Obree urges us to transform from Dr Jekyll into Mr Hyde.
No doubt Obree would enjoy the Jekyll and Hyde Show which the GAA runs every summer. It’s called The Championship. For 70 minutes on any given Sunday, otherwise fine, decent human beings are given license to unleash their inner monsters. From the throw-in until the long whistle, some of the finest, most upstanding men you could wish to meet will pull, haul, drag and taunt each other.
If they really step out of the line, they sometimes get a yellow card.
Many of our inter-county footballers have no need to read Obree’s last chapter. Some of them could have written it themselves. Anyone who is keen to survey the win-at-all-costs culture that exists in an inter-county changing room should take a look at Owen Mulligan’s autobiography, Mugsy. A winner of three All-Ireland medals, Mugsy candidly admits Tyrone developed “a bit of a reputation for giving verbals”.
Mugsy confesses that he started baiting opponents “at minor level”. More than a decade later, he remains unrepentant. Justifying the practice, he wrote: “If you can get into somebody’s head and put them off their game, then I think it’s valid.”
Interestingly, Mugsy noted that Tyrone manager Mickey Harte never encouraged his players to taunt their opponents, but he never discouraged them either. He also revealed that not every player in the team indulged in sledging.
“Stevie O’Neill never did it. The older boys like Canavan and Cricko [Chris Lawn] didn’t either.”
However, Mugsy’s most telling comment on the subject was that: “Nobody told the rest of us to stop. Why would they? We were winning.”
Ultimately, it all comes back to winning. According to Obree, the true competitor must be willing to abandon the norms of civilised society because “competitive sport, by its very nature, where to win is the ultimate goal, necessitates behaviour that is the absolute opposite to this”.
A similar philosophy clearly existed in the Tyrone changing room. In 2003, Mulligan admitted he was getting “a lot of criticism for diving”. Evidently, he didn’t lose much sleep about it. He wrote: “I didn’t care about getting a reputation. We were winning games.”
It would be wrong to assume that Tyrone are the only culprits or the chief culprits. That’s untrue. Mugsy’s book is just a convenient example.
The most memorable Jekyll and Hyde performance of recent years was delivered by a Kerry man. Remember Tadhg Kennelly. Tadhg, who danced a jig when he won a Grand Final with the Sydney Swans. Sweet, smiling Tadhg who returned to Ireland to win an All-Ireland medal with his beloved Kerry. And yes, this was the same Tadhg who on the eve of the 2009 All-Ireland final told Paul Galvin that he was “going to charge in and hit someone at the start”.
Three seconds into the game, Kennelly hit Nicholas Murphy on the jaw with a high elbow. While Kennelly has distanced himself from the account of the incident which is presented in his ghost-writtenautobiography, he didn’t deny making the comment to Galvin. And he did hit Murphy on the jaw. And he did win an All-Ireland medal.
Strip away the smile and charm which our players and managers present to the media, and there is usually a Dr Hyde lurking underneath.
Dublin are no different. All this year, Jim Gavin repeatedly told us that he wanted his team to uphold the values of Dublin football — whatever they are. But in the closing stages of this year’s final, Gavin team proved to be as callous and as cynical as anyone else.
And in the post-match press conference, we finally saw the other side of Jim Gavin. On his team’s greatest day, he chose to deliver a stinging attack on the referee. Not content with criticising one referee, he insisted that Dublin had been the victim of poor refereeing all year.
However, we shouldn’t be surprised when the mask slips and we discover that the cerebral Jim Gavin is every bit as subjective and as paranoid as Davy Fitzgerald. He just hides it better. As Obree points out from birth we are conditioned to be civil, to be polite, and to think of how our actions will affect other. But in sport, those conditions don’t apply. The attraction of sport is that it is the one area in life where “going primal” is not only acceptable, it’s positivelyencouraged. Only a certain type of person is attracted to that type of environment.
The problem for the GAA is that the rules of the game haven’t provided a sufficient deterrent to those who have been willing to push the boundaries.
During the last decade, we have witnessed unprecedented levels of diving, spitting, sledging and cynical fouling. The black card rule was introduced to Gaelic football yesterday. Naturally, there will be teething problems and some controversy. But let’s not be in any doubt. The black card isn’t the final solution. It’s only the start of a longer process.
It’s time to bring the sociopaths to task.