For all the pundits and analysts and journos and podcasts and metrics and statistics we have now, there appears to be a fundamental gap in our understanding of Gaelic games’ most crucial dynamic.
Maybe we are being deliberately kept in the dark.
Of course, we have known, for many, many years, and had it confirmed time and again in recent weeks, that the key factor in the winning and losing of any GAA match is not so much talent or effort or good fortune or even the blessed system. It is, rather, What They Said About Us Coming Up Here Today.
That is how it is traditionally harvested, The Savage Hunger, that vital ingredient that will trump any system and quieten any danger man.
It might come from a newspaper column. Or a loose word from a pundit. It could be what those boys said to our fella, that time, after the goal. It might just be a chuckle, at the wrong moment, about something else altogether.
Of the recent glut of WTSAUCUHT, the Cork lads read it in the paper. The Galway lads were caught up in the industry around every Ger Loughnane pronouncement. And the Tipp lads saw Brolly and O’Rourke laughing at them.
Bookies, you imagine, maintain a ‘crazy wall’ of who said what about who clippings before calling odds on fixtures.
Though the pickings are slim enough. Because the WTSAUCUHT factor runs neck and neck with the internet, in terms of threats to the newspaper industry, mostly frightening otherwise intelligent, opinionated lads into mumbling mantras: “We’re under no illusions. We expect a savage battle Sunday. We’ve the world of respect for them.”
And yet, when we go to the experts, to get cold analysis, to find out how WTSAUCUHT is harnessed, to see whether they use Blu-Tack or Sellotape on the dressing room door, or if they send lads off to sleep with a Brolly laughing track playing in their ears, it is as if the WTSAUCUHT factor doesn’t exist at all.
The GAA is teaming with sports psychs and performance consultants. We now have gurus who bottle a winning scent for leakage into dressing rooms.
All these guys will give us chapter and verse on visualisation, on mindfulness, about controlling the controllables, about goal-setting and positive self-talk. They will throw in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, when the need arises.
But nobody will go on the record, or even off the record, on WTSAUCUHT.
And there are no peer- reviewed research papers on The Savage Hunger.
I tried a few of the gurus this week. On the off-chance someone would break ranks. One pooh-poohed the value of this kind of thing. A one-percenter maybe. Another called it “hot stove stuff”, old-fashioned.
Richard Shanahan, who was in with Fermanagh footballers this week, swears he’s never relied on it.
“You focus on what you do. That kind of thing gets lads riled up, a bit emotional, and takes their focus off the performance. A distraction. It’s all about regulating their emotional state. And if you’re calm and focused and in the zone at every moment of the game, you’ll do very well.”
What serene parallel universe is this? Have generations of hurlers and footballers been codding us? Or codding themselves?
Something never quite added up. In the most aggressive arenas, where you’d expect The Savage Hunger to come into its own — the boxing, lately the MMA — they have never been afraid to give the other lad something for his dressing room door.
Mainly, they go out of their way to provide it. We must take into account that they have ‘buys’ to sell. But even so, the consensus is that trash talk is as likely to rattle as it is to inspire.
So where does all this leave us with Ger Loughnane, mastermind, some will insist, of a Machiavellian plot that won last Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final for Galway?
In calling Galway ‘gutless’ and so forth, could it be that Ger was trying to rattle Galway rather than inspire them?
If we dip into Ger’s rich and colourful history in the mind games, we only become more confused. We can easily recall how Nicky English’s smile, after the hiding of ‘93, became an important cog in Ger’s WTSAUCUHT strategy whenever Clare faced Tipp.
Though that strategy evolved somewhat, over those ferocious years, as Ger recalled in his biography, Raising the Banner.
“I brought up the issue again of how Nicky English had insulted Clare in ‘93. The whole thing blew up again and it was driving Tipperary mad. I always believe the best thing to do is to whip up the opposition into a frenzy. The bigger the rage they were in, the better I liked it.”
So maybe Ger is still rattling and inspiring at the same time. Or maybe he is just trying to do the game a service by ensuring everyone’s emotions are running high at all times.
But we can never know for sure. Because the gurus just won’t help us on this one.
Downfall of black card
Nobody asked me but I told them anyway, in March 2013, that a vote for the black card was a rubberstamp on a divers’ charter.
In soccer, they only inadvertently incentivised falling down, the evolution of the tumble human nature’s way of drawing attention to indiscretion. A 999 call for assistance, in the shape of a free-kick.
Of course, men who carry varying degrees of entitlement interpret differently when they earn the right to go down. That’s soccer’s problem.
In Gaelic football, they wrote the tumble into law. In telling us a man would be sent from the field not for pulling an opponent but for pulling him down, they elevated the collapse, beyond a mere distress call, and filed it in the prosecution’s evidence book.
And when you normalise the tumble, in one area, you risk the spread of a rash.
That is where the black card has fallen down.
Slicing the GAA pie
As civil war looms in the GAA, it is incumbent on us all to provide solutions.
So. Those tokens they give you at the supermarket checkout, that you deposit in the chute of your preferred charity — surely a model for solving every philosophical wrangle.
And a simple, democratic fix amid grumbles about the €7.5m that might soon wind up in the GPA’s coffers, and the complaints out there from the clubman filling buckets every Sunday to keep the local crowd in togs.
When the punter leaves Croke Park of a Sunday, or Clones or Semple or wherever, give him options for his ticket stub.
Pop it in the chute marked ‘Players’.
Or in the one marked ‘reinvest in the structures that got those players this far’.
Tidier labelling suggestions welcome.
They might be able to make use of the Sky Sports red button, too, to disperse media rights. But that may prove more controversial.
Heroes & villains
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Premier League: Goals live on Twitter. They were there anyway, but no harm to make sure.
Andy Reid: We had lost him, some time ago, as a cause celebre for the Boys in Green, but now, sadly, he is gone altogether, with his enforced retirement..
HELL IN A HANDCART
Mamadou Sakho: When Blackie Gray was late for the 1963 European Cup final due to his affair with Suzanne Cerise, at least he went on and scored the winner. This guy’s just not providing any upside.
The FA: Fourth subs? What is it they don’t understand about people’s appetite for outright disarray in extra-time?
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