BACK in the not-too-distant past, it was virtually impossible to find a footballer or hurler whose favourite film wasn’t The Shawshank Redemption.
Nearly every Q&A with a player read the same: Favourite film? Shawshank Redemption. Favourite meal? Steak and chips. Toughest opponent? The next one.
I remain convinced that players who never watched Andy “crawl to freedom through 500 yards of s***-smelling foulness” still put it down as their favourite show.
Those responses were a symptom of the traditional Irish upbringing. Keep your head down. Don’t try to stand out (sure who would be looking at you anyway?) Don’t get above your station.
In many ways there were sound motives behind this advice. But if American society provides an excellent example of the ugly consequences of self-obsession, then the Irish were an equally distressing antidote.
If the typical Yank was a preening poodle, then the typical Irishman was a sheep – that was very determined to stay in the flock.
I like to call these men Shawshankers.
Thankfully, we now seem to be finding a better equilibrium with regard to finding the balance between having the confidence to assert our individuality while also being prepared to be part of the herd when it serves the greater good.
The change is very evident in the GAA. Nowadays it can be virtually impossible to get any information from some of top squads. When it comes to tactics and what’s happening at training, players uphold a strict omerta.
The news that Brian Dooher and Justin McMahon won the bleep test at a recent Tyrone training camp arrived like nuggets in a stream. At the weekend, Tommy Griffin revealed that a few slaps are a relatively common occurrence in Kerry training sessions. Otherwise, less and less is seeping from out from the camps.
The Q&A which appears in the Irish News every Saturday shows how players no longer feel obliged to be act like androids when dealing with the media.
Selfless team players can still be individuals. Dick Clerkin is a good example. Dick’s replies to our questionnaire revealed more about him than some of the 3,000 word epics that appear about other players in the Sunday newspapers.
When I asked Dick to list his favourite beverage, he answered: ‘Iced tea’. I thought he was joking and said so. But he was serious. “It’s low in sugars”, explained the disciplined midfielder. He then added: “To be exact, I drink Nestle’s fruit-flavoured iced-tea.”
Clerkin went on to confound some other misconceptions about him.
He doesn’t have any specific matchday superstitions but he did used to buy a new pair of boxer shorts “for a bit of craic in the changing room”.
He named Peru as his favourite holiday destination and The Ivy as the best restaurant he had ever eaten in.
The overwhelming majority of the players who have answered our questions have been equally forthright in their responses. Aaron Kernan doesn’t have a favourite chocolate bar because he doesn’t like chocolate. Father-of-two Graham Clarke confessed that the last film he went to see was probably Forrest Gump. Kevin Cassidy’s favourite hobby outside football is kayaking, possibly because he can carry his kayak from the back door down to the sea.
However, amid all this absorbing individuality off the pitch, it has become more and more depressing how our players are behaving with such conformity on the field of play.
Attend any Championship game and the formation is wearily predictable. Managers are under the impression that they can choose from two options: the sweeper system, or the conventional blanket defence. Virtually no-one deviates from the script.
It is now abundantly clear that managers are slavishly copying the templates of other successful teams, regardless of whether that system suits their players or not.
The game is crying out for an independent thinker like Chilean manager Marcelo Bielsa.
Having guided Chile to their first World Cup in 12 years, the Argentine is revered in his adopted nation.
His intelligence as a coach was underlined in the group match against Spain.
Anyone who has watched the Spanish football team in recent years will appreciate that it is standard practice for them to own the ball in any game they play. They enjoyed 72% of the possession in the quarter-final against Paraguay.
Most were expecting a similar scenario when Spain met Chile. But Bielsa’s daring 3-3-1-3 formation severely disrupted the World Cup favourites.
By pressing high up the pitch, Chile stopped their opponents from indulging in Tiki-Taka, the phrase given to Spain’s brand of short, crisp, passing.
It was only a ghastly goalkeeping error which eventually allowed Spain to gain the upper hand.
Bielsa’s team never used a single cone during their warm-up. In fact, they spent the first 15 minutes engaged in light-hearted ball juggling.
There is currently a campaign underway in Chile trying to persuade ‘Loco,’ the Madman, to remain as manager. And costing less than £1m a year, he’s a bargain compared to Fabio ‘4-4-2’ Capello.
Oh, how the football Championship would benefit from a brain like Bielsa’s. At present, the All-Ireland champions largely dictate the formation of nearly every club and county team for the next 12 months.
On Sunday, Limerick’s policy of withdrawing half-forwards into the defence gave Kerry’s half-backs, Mike McCarthy and Tomás O Sé the freedom to race forward and kick four points. Kerry’s winning margin was three.
It’s unfair to criticise Mickey Ned O’Sullivan as he has done a fantastic job with Limerick and tactics weren’t the only reason why his team was beaten.
But in many other cases, misguided tactics are the principle reason why teams are under-performing.
It’s time for new ideas. As our Q&A proves every weekend, the players have stopped acting like sheep. It’s time the ‘Shawshanker’ managers followed their example.
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