Sports analysis needs some new tactics

Is it all over for sports analysis at long, long last? Have we finally gone over the brow of the mountain, beyond the peak and down the incline on the far side?

Sports analysis needs some new tactics

Is it all over for sports analysis at long, long last? Have we finally gone over the brow of the mountain, beyond the peak and down the incline on the far side? This is not the anguished cry of the prophet unrecognised in his own land but a dispassionate statement of fact.

Last Saturday evening on RTÉ John Meyler said one of the managers involved the Cork senior hurling double-header would be dishing out a bollocking at half-time. That morning Graham Henry sailed far past the PG rating when he let loose with a sharp observation from the Rugby World Cup, that some of the All Blacks would be ‘shitting themselves’.

Why see this as the harbinger of doom? To deploy a presidential description, this is mere locker-room talk, but like that presidential description, it presages decline. Go back a little further in time and we had the latest furore in a long line of furoreaux revolving like a dark cloud over Joe Brolly.

This edition related to criticism of David Gough on RTÉ during the drawn All-Ireland final. Go forward a little in time and Roy Keane is to pop up a contributor with Sky in the current soccer season. I’m well aware criticising pundits is like shooting fish in a barrel.

It’s no dazzling insight to say there now appears to be more secondary sports-generated content (or nonsense, to give the technical term) than there is actual sport. The build-up to the Rugby World Cup seems to have been simmering since the mid-eighties, for instance.

The difference is that I have an alternative vision for the pundit. A different way. The basic problem with tactical analysis is that it is a representation of something rather than the thing itself. But why is that representation in its current form?

Because, to quote Raymond Williams, the bourgeois will always convince everyone that what they prefer is the natural order of things. In this case there are plenty of other ways to show what you mean in analysis, and I strongly suggest abandoning the traditional signifiers of play — tactic graphics, a deluge of statistics — in favour of another level of meaning, another layer of representation.

What is the issue with approaching a sports event at a different tangent? No matter what the sport is, it’s being approached at a generally agreed tangent as things stand, an agreed language whose poverty was illustrated by Messrs Meyler and Henry over the weekend.

Flip it around. Explain the tactical approach in a club hurling game not through the analysis of wides and scores, but through the medium of interpretative dance. Break down the Republic of Ireland-Switzerland game not with a discussion of Mick McCarthy’s tactics but as reflected in non-representative painting, or collage, by the TV panellists.

Dissect the New Zealand rucking style courtesy of some Noh theatre moves, given where the Rugby World Cup is going on. (Side note: if you subscribe to the notion that there is some tension between Jamie Heaslip and Eddie O’Sullivan as they pundit away, be advised that this corner of the paper is strictly Team Eddie.)

The danger here is that pundits who are focusing on extraneous matters — personal attacks, the wider culture, matters political or social — can claim to be ahead of the curve; rather than the redundant recycling of guff about scores and tackles and controversies, they have seen the next level in analysis.

They are already reaching for it. The question is whether they’ve pulled up the ladder after them. Metaphorically speaking.

Sporting feel to Kinsale’s literary festival

A last plug here for an upcoming event, the Kinsale Words By Water literary festival which takes place in the Cork seaside town on the first weekend in October. Try to form an orderly queue, but I will be popping up at a couple of events — one to discuss Cork in the eighties, and another to discuss sports writing and sports books.

While I know you are all keen to feast on my visage at the former, at the second the monotony will be broken somewhat by other contributors — Neal Horgan, who has written a couple of books about Cork City FC and the League of Ireland in general, Adrian Russell, whose new book about Cork winning the double in 1990 is just out, and Tomás Ó Sé, who was shortlisted for the Irish Sports Book of the Year for his biography, The White Heat.

For these and other highlights, log on to

Why Dublin get it right off the field

Over the weekend I wrote about the Dublin situation/conundrum/galactic empire, whatever you want to call it.

In doing so I should have probably paid more attention to the work of the Dublin County Board, but there’s a) only so much physical space even in the deluxe Saturday edition of the paper and b) only so much mental space even among devotees of the GAA’s financial dealings.

While it’s easy to say that Dublin GAA officials have ready-made advantages for all sorts of economic/demographic reasons, credit has to go to them for utilising those advantages, because not all county boards do so.

This is not as vague a condemnation as you might think. Granted, there are always rumours swirling about how this board is doing, how that board is doing — my favourite is the intricate narrative circulating recently about a county board which reportedly turned down a lucrative funding plan hatched by an e-pat because it wouldn’t have full control of the funding.

None of them match the county board which got one of its teams to an underage All-Ireland final in recent years, with all the positive publicity and brand awareness which accompanies that kind of success.

The sponsorship deal signed by that county board, for a side generating acres of newsprint and hours of TV coverage? One thousand euro and a set of jerseys. Hence the credit due to the Dublin County Board, for not making those kinds of mistakes.

Miley’s campaign is flying under the radar

Spoke last week to Dave Miley, who is running for president of the International Tennis Federation.

No, I wasn’t aware of Miley’s campaign either until last week, which surprised me. I’d have thought an Irishman in the running to head one of the most prestigious governing bodies in international sport would be bigger news, but his candidacy seems to be a little under the radar.

Well, here at any rate. L’Équipe carried an in-depth interview with Miley a few weeks ago. You can read his views here soon.

Which reminds me: name the All-Ireland senior hurling medallist who was Ireland’s first Davis Cup non-playing captain? Email your answer to

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