COLM O'REGAN: Only over a number of years can you say whether someone is a ‘waster’ or a ‘legend’

Around the early 2000s, I was at a few Ireland matches in Lansdowne Road. 

Now, as any football fan attending a match will know, just by attending qualifies you to call it as you see it. It’s time for blunt talking and you’re just the fella to speak truth to power. Even though you don’t know nothing about nothing.

Anyway there I was, in a seat I hadn’t paid for. Giving out about Robbie Keane. He was losing possession and complaining to the referee that he was fouled and generally throwing shapes.

“AH GWAYOUTTA THAT ROBBIE. DOANMINDGIVINOUT. YA WASTEOFSPACE,” says I. That was my considered judgement then of a player who would go on to become Ireland’s top goalscorer ever (and possibly forever).

I hadn’t really taken into account his goalscoring record thus far, that he was the victim of managerial merry-go-round in Inter Milan. In fact he was shortly to help Leeds get from mid-table into Europe.

My due diligence as a commentator is not on trial here. Just as well. It wouldn’t be a long trial and my flimsy defence would start to unravel as soon as the prosecution unveiled Exhibits A-Z articles here on such topics as wincing and the out of office reply.

I’m talking about Longevity. Sticking at it. There’s plenty of talk and adulation for those who have ‘changed direction’, ‘had an interesting path’ or a ‘long and varied career’ but sometimes, just sticking at it and plugging away is to be lauded too.

Because it’s only over the course of a number of years can you really say whether someone is a ‘waster’ or a ‘legend’. (I mean legend in the sporting sense, not the Fionn MacCumhail sense. Because the careers of all mythological legends in a legendary context end in failure, which tends to colour our judgement of them.)

Very few people are on fire all of the time. Usually they are the sum of their parts. If you came to see me do one gig and I had a stinker – not my fault, the audience were drunk, the mike was made of an old sieve and there was a foundry next door making noise- you might form an unfair opinion of me.

But if you saw me in operation again with a nice setup and audience and I was still as funny as a hangnail that you’d bitten off too eagerly, at least you’d have a bigger dataset to judge me.

We seem to be basing our judgement of people on smaller and smaller amounts of experience. Especially those in the public eye. I have been known to ‘take to twitter’ to throw out a snarky comment about someone but then I find that if Id only waited a damn second and looked at the entirety of what – or even the next thing – they did, I’d find I was too harsh. Very few people are complete hames-machines.

Maybe we need to change our criteria of how we judge how someone is doing. Say for example politicians. It should be possible for them, when they make a bags of something, honestly say “I made a bags of it but in fairness, I was an auctioneer until last Tuesday and now I’m running a department of 100000 people. Givemeachance biywilla and judge me on the next 10 things and if they are all also baggses then fair enough.”

Say you’re a new minister and oh I dunno, the head of the Olympic council is in jail in, em … Rio or somewhere, Like, how would even know where to begin? Should we have a more robust attitude to the ‘failure-mistake-sorry-fix it-I’m better at it now’ cycle. Should it be clear how many blunders you’re allowed? Should you be forced to fix it rather than resign?

Robbie Keane will be looking forward to watching games now with his job – or this one at least – done. I wonder what he’ll be shouting from the stands?


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