So, what do the All Blacks who departed Auckland airport a few days ago for Rugby World Cup 2015 and the Kerry footballers who will set off for Dublin on Saturday for this year’s All Ireland Football Final have in common?
Quite a lot really.
A rich heritage. Best in their respective sports. A winning mentality. Natural born footballers. Above all, a massive expectation to win from within the group and - outside it - among supporters.
They also possess coaches who can, with the aid of a coolly-coined media soundbite, diminish expectations to keep players grounded and maintain a spirit of humility. Forget about World Cup Finals, says Steve Hansen. He is only worried about Game One against Argentina. All season Eamonn Fitzmaurice has treated each opponent with genuine respect.
The bottom line in each domain, however, is succeed or be damned.
“I suppose in our situation, we are expected to win the All-Ireland every year and if you’re not doing it it’s a failure,” says multiple All-Ireland winner and current Kerry selector, Diarmuid Murphy.
“We are putting ourselves under pressure more so than maybe the supporters or the public to perform and do well this year.”
What motivates the All Blacks on their latest tour of duty is to lift the Web Ellis trophy outside of New Zealand and in the northern hemisphere; for the Kerry players there’s that niggling bit about this Dublin side on the cusp of completing a hat-trick of victories over them since the 2011 decider.
“It (the motivating factor) would be one for the players. Of course they (Dublin) got the better of us the last couple of times we played them in the championship and it’s been in the fairly recent past as well. But coming into an All-Ireland final our fellas won’t need any extra motivation to what they have already really… there would be a talk of different edges and different teams and that, but no more than the Kilkenny fellas, you are just expected to perform.”
Another common thread linking New Zealand rugby and Kerry football pedigree can be found in the characters who populate the respective squads.
Men like Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw in an All Blacks locker room exude class and leadership; supreme footballers like Colm Cooper and David Moran and Kieran Donaghy in a Kerry camp bring leadership and a lot more besides to a group.
Diarmuid Murphy lined out with some quality players in his playing days but is backing the current generation, aiming for back-to-back All Ireland titles, to deliver on judgment day.
“We are lucky that we are in a position where we have lads who are at a good age group, they have good experience with the benefit of having won the All-Ireland last year, so we’ve leadership coming from every sector of the field really.
“Every game brings its own challenges, every opposition is different. We’ve adapted accordingly. We are lucky with the squad of players we have that they can do so. They are very flexible and we have great options coming off the bench as well if you wanted to change things midstream.
We’d be very happy with the squad we have and that they can adapt to whatever is put in front of them.”
But can they adapt to playing this all-singing all-dancing Dublin side?
Plus there’s the Cluxton factor. Stephen Cluxton is not your prototypical goalkeeper and his influence over how this team plays is one that Murphy – a former net-minder for the Kingdom - is well aware of.
“Stephen has been the best goalie over the last 20 years, without a shadow of a doubt. He’s been outstanding for Dublin. His performance levels, day in and day out have been high. To be performing consistently at that level for that period of time is an outstanding achievement.”
Has he changed the role with kick-outs etc?
“Yeah, the ‘re-starts’ as they are nearly known as now rather than kick-outs, he’s probably been one of the goalkeepers that has taken it on to another level, especially when the kick-out from the 14 came in a few years ago, that made a huge difference, rather than the kick-outs from the edge of the small square. Because you are restarting every time from the same place, so it’s easier to get set-plays in motion then. Definitely he has been leading the charge in that regard for the last ten or 15 years.”
And has goalkeeping changed since Murphy retired? “There is more emphasis on the kick-outs now, on retaining possession from kick-outs. A lot of that has to do with the defensive set-ups of teams because teams now seem to be overloaded with backs against forwards.
“In the past it was six against six so it was hard to work those kicks to space when you didn’t have the extra men there. Now you could have eight or nine backs against three or four forwards, so if you are going about your business right you can retain possession easier, rather than putting the ball out to the middle of the field.
“But again, teams will play to their strengths. In that regard, it has changed, but the rest of the game is quite similar.”
Restarts, set-plays, retaining possession, overloaded – even the terminology used around rugby and Gaelic football is becoming strikingly similar.
However, only one word represents New Zealand’s and Kerry’s outlook on sport this autumn - ‘winning’.
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