As a small speck of land in the ocean, here in Ireland we’re never going to set our own trends, nor can we escape those that form and take hold elsewhere.
Even something as unique and isolated as Gaelic games can’t get away from the values that once belonged to other sports and this week was another reminder of what this generation is imposing on football.
Sadly, Kieran McGeeney and his Kildare team are the perfect example of how fans have forgotten how to measure success and failure and how you can now only win when there’s silverware to show off. In effect, that attitude means that most sides are deemed to have fallen short when that’s not the case.
It’s strange that so many people who love and follow the game closely understand so little about it. Just as crowds grumble and there are the inevitable shouts of “kick it long” when a team wisely hold possession and probe for an opening, then many of those in the crowd also struggle to gauge what constitutes progress and a job well done.
Instead, with a blatant disregard for patience, they can’t see past results and in Kildare’s case, they can’t see that in non-traditional counties there’s a very distinctive and defined life cycle to a team.
That involves building, succeeding, dismantling and then rebuilding and while McGeeney has clearly gone through each of those steps, he is wrongly expected to maintain results through them all.
Not achieving that is not failure, however popular such sensationalism may be.
For the past few days there’s been speculation regarding his future, which makes you wonder what people expect out of him and others. Yes, they were destroyed by Dublin, and yes they were disappointing in coming close against Tyrone but scratch beyond the surface and look beyond the need for instant success and controversial opinions.
When McGeeney took over Kildare for the 2008 season they were a shambles, losing out to the likes of Offaly, Louth and Derry in previous years. People always ask who have they beaten five years later, ignoring the many near misses and how getting the side close to elite teams involved giant strides forward. Besides, the question should have been who has ended his interest each season? By 2009 McGeeney had his adopted home at a raised level. By 2010 and 2011 he had Kildare inches from the top of the mountain. By 2012, the team he’d put together was falling apart. So, in 2013, he started to build a new side despite a complete lack of underage success over the years, and the cycle started over. Quite how anyone expected Kildare to continue on as they had done at their peak is beyond logic. The facts are he used nine U21s this season, gave seven players debuts, two of his team were minors a year ago, Kildare not just maintained Division One status but reached a league semi-final, McGeeney guided the county to their first provincial U21 title in five years, the structures he played a part in building saw the county win a first Leinster minor title since 1991, the U16 side are also at the top of the east, as are the juniors.
And yet, in a county that has been in one All-Ireland final in 78 years, and that haven’t won an All-Ireland for 85 years, this isn’t enough to be allowed build a new team without your performance and role being called into question. It’s absurd but it’s not just Kildare, rather it is endemic of how we now view everything. It’s about winning it all instantly without any consideration for the fact that football isn’t like other sports, there are no quick fixes and time and energy need to be devoted to getting things right off the field before they’ll ever be right on it.
Unfortunately that’s been forgotten, as here in Ireland there’s no escaping the trends that take hold elsewhere. Even Gaelic games are subjected to beliefs that don’t fit as winning becomes everything.
United’s aura is waning
Growing up as a Chelsea fan, there was always a certain dignity in following a side that struggled. It made you feel unique and different and like you had substance when others were jumping on bandwagons.
But with Alex Ferguson around, it also made you fearful. Even in recent seasons as the budget and culture at Stamford Bridge became unrecognisable, there was still a shadow cast across Roman Abramovich’s neat rows of Roubles, and the entire Premier League, by the Scotsman and there was always a horrible feeling that anything your team could do, he could do better.
They say elite level sport is about testing yourself against the very best, but instead of feeling pleasure at being part of the big time, there was a dread about going to Old Trafford.
Manchester United are of course so much more than one man, despite what he achieved, and there’s no doubt they’ll keep winning trophies. But their first season without Ferguson hasn’t yet begun and already the fear factor just his presence created is largely gone. David Moyes is a fine manager, needs time and might well end up being a huge success, but the intimidation that emanated from United no longer exists. As they bumble along in the transfer market with a small hint of desperation, there’s the sense that they’re no longer an immovable object.
And as the start of the season ticks closer, there’s the sense that playing United doesn’t seem daunting as it has done for the last couple of generations. Finally, the rest might get to enjoy testing themselves against the very best.
Walsh left too many stones unturned
To suggest that access was traded for integrity is unfair, but you couldn’t but help but feel a little short-changed by David Walsh’s article last week about Chris Froome in The Sunday Times.
The British Journalist of the Year, who in recent years would leave no stone unturned in his hunt of Lance Armstrong, seemed to walk right over those same stones when it came to his time spent with Team Sky over recent months. You were left with an empty feeling because of the questions neither asked nor answered by a writer and investigator of his stature.
Aside from Walsh’s work though, why newspapers gave so much coverage to this year’s Tour de France is baffling. In terms of day-to-day reporting, after what has gone on for an age, with suspicions about what is still going on and with doubt yet again surrounding the victor, it seems like the media was trying to help sell a sick sport. There should be punishment because of how cycling toyed with our trust, so helping to promote and sell it seems amoral.
Heroes & villains
Stairway to heaven
Monaghan: Malachy O’Rourke deserved it for his management career, Dick Clerkin, Tommy Freeman and others deserved it for their playing careers, the county deserved it after waiting for so long, the championship deserved it after a slow and stumbling season.
Boxing at the Olympics: We all love Katie Taylor and women’s boxing is growing. But even so, stopping extra weight divisions and medals at the next Olympics isn’t all that bad a move as first the standard has to rise. This isn’t charity remember.
To hell in a handcart
League of Ireland: With Derry City’s exit from the Europa League on Thursday, it meant a representative of the Republic failed to win a continental tie this season, the first time that’s happened since 1999.
Aaron Hernandez: The trial of the New England Patriot has begun and with pictures released supposedly showing the tight end holding a murder weapon, there seems an inevitability about the outcome. This won’t end up like OJ we reckon.
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