Some day, while suffering a demoralising runaround of the type France treated us to last Monday, Irish football may locate its inner George Costanza.
The great man figured it all out, having realised that every decision he ever made was wrong. Jerry Seinfeld duly pointed out that if every instinct George has is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.
And vowing to go against his better judgment from there on in, George immediately approached a woman in the coffee shop, telling her, “I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”
Somehow it worked for George, at least for one date and one episode, and it’s got to be worth a shot for Ireland, for some sweet comic relief, if nothing else.
Our footballing instincts might not be all wrong but they are probably best encapsulated in the song ‘You’ll never beat the Irish’, a factually loose ballad inspired by a noble habit of drawing the odd match in major tournaments.
Those aspirational words guide our deepest-held ambition; that it will be inconvenient for you to beat us.
We set out our stall to be hard to beat. We get in the type of managers who will make us hard to beat. We travel to difficult places to go with the intention of being hard to beat. And at our best, we’re hard to beat at home.
We might well get beat, of course, but there will be hardship involved, or so our conceit goes, for whoever is doing the beating.
But is there any possibility opponents might consider it an even greater inconvenience if we were trying to beat them?
Talking before the U17 European Championships, the team’s promising young manager Colin O’Brien expanded on what he sees as our football DNA.
“We know our values and what we’re good at as Irish people, as Irish young players. It’s important to tap into that identity. We have good hard-working players, good mentality. We’re hard to beat.
“But we’re looking at getting better with the ball too,” O’Brien added, and his team stands out as one to make some progress in that regard.
But what if our identity is more a hindrance than a help to him? What if it’s our instincts, our burning desire to be hard to beat, that persuades us to do the wrong thing a lot of the time? To make the wrong decisions. To just knock it, to sit back, to keep it tight, to give away the ball.
After half-time in Paris, when we were already as good as beaten, Jim Beglin noted that Martin O’Neill was “asking them to take more responsibility and get on the ball.” It was a little late in the day to figure out it might be wise not to keep giving better players the ball back, but with the beating out of the way, a few of them even managed it. Conceding a goal often gives an Irish team parole. Letting in two can be a blessed release from captivity.
At the Euros, O’Brien’s team were hard to beat even if he accepted they should have kept the ball better in the controversial exit to the Netherlands. Though there was 60 seconds of freedom that brought Troy Parrott’s superb equaliser, a beautiful minute when we thought we were beaten.
As a nation we seem to be in search of new ideologies to guide us, and maybe it’s time to abandon our instinctive distaste for defeat.
This is, after all, a time of great change in football management too. The esteemed doctor, Anthony O’Connor, took a small break from the gastroenterology this week, to note, on Twitter, a startling evolution.
“Is Big Sam the last Big soccer manager? Gone are the days when Big Ron, Big Jock, Big Jack, Big Mal and Big Phil roamed the prairies.” It was once notable that Phil Scolari had gained Johnny Foreigner acceptance into football’s hall of bigness.
But if we have moved beyond celebrating size in a gaffer, surely we can embrace defeat too, in the name of progress.
And if we won’t listen to George on this one, maybe it’s worth looking at the work of another great bald man.
Could our exposure to Pep Guardiola and his philosophies convince us that everything we thought we knew is wrong?
In the teachings of Pep, we come across an anomaly that jars with our own deep understanding of how great things are achieved.
As hard as we scrutinise his gospels, we can find no mention anywhere of a promise to make Manchester City hard to beat. Or Bayern hard to beat. Or Barca hard to beat.
If anything, Pep started out his work at Manchester City by making them easier to beat, by employing a goalkeeper who didn’t get involved in saving shots and seemingly encouraging his defenders to gift the odd goal and not to worry one bit about it.
There are a lot of them out there, these days, gaffers not too worried about defeat. Or even goalkeeping. Men like Klopp. Even another bald hero, Zizou, didn’t depart this week wishing he had made Madrid harder to beat, had kept it tighter.
Talent comes into it somewhere along the line, judging by Pep’s need to lash out the billions. But how much talent have we stifled over the years so we are hard to beat?
We could always go back to Big Mick, but first why not follow George and do everything we believe to be wrong. Let’s overelaborate, let’s make it a priority to lose the ball in dangerous areas.
And as a first step, to set the players free, let’s welcome the Americans to the Aviva today with a proud and defiant chorus of ‘you’re gonna beat the Irish’.
Heroes & villains
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Joey Carbery: In Thursday’s scenes of great devastation, in the broken bewilderment of a man exiled to a mysterious land he knows nothing of, we can truly appreciate what dedicated heroes are prepared to do for their country. Best of luck in Limerick, son. #prayforcarbs
Morag Bellingham: A master at manipulating the notoriously inconsistent Yabbie Creek justice system, even if she went a bit of soft in recent years and lost some cases she had every right to win. Still a woman you always wanted in your corner. RIP Cornelia Frances.
HELL IN A HANDCART
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