A culture of excellence - Honesty is central to achievement

TOMORROW afternoon only something a little over an hour and Tipperary will stand between Kilkenny’s hurlers and the kind of life-shaping achievement many of us fantasise about, a very small few of us dedicate our lives to, but no one has achieved.

Even getting to the point where you can challenge for a fifth All Ireland in a row is an exceptional achievement.

Without wishing Tipperary anything but the very, very best of luck tomorrow Kilkenny’s spectacular achievements, and how they have sustained exceptional performance to become what is recognised as the best hurling panel of all time, deserves to be considered from the perspective of human endeavour and an active, self-perpetuating culture of excellence as well as a purely sporting context.

As we all know by now they are going for their fifth consecutive All Ireland title and their 22nd consecutive championship win, but what sometimes might be lost in the great and deserved flag waving is that this has been achieved by a group only a handful of whom could be described as exceptionally talented. This is not to disparage the majority but more to recognise and celebrate what they have made themselves.

Through application, plain hard work, huge community support, ruthless focus, inspiring leadership, as well as magnificent management, they have become something far less ordinary. They have made themselves exceptional because they refused to settle for anything less.

This is confirmed by the fact that even without one of their brightest stars – the great Henry Shefflin – they are still favourites tomorrow to go where no team has gone before.

Of course it’s easy, and all too common, to give disproportionate weight to sporting achievements, but when that achievement shines through a deepening fog of failure it would be very foolish not to consider why some of life’s projects succeed and others fail, tottering along spreading underachievement like a contagion.

In sport Kilkenny – and Leinster, Munster, Padraig Harrington, Aidan O’Brien too and a handful more – have shown that the Irish can match anyone when ambition, talent, effort and determination come together. Their success stands in stark contrast to how we seem to have managed our public affairs.

It would be foolish to imagine that top level sport is free of cynicism but that cynicism is kept in check by honesty in appraising performance essential for success in any field. Kilkenny would not be on the brink of history if they were dishonest with themselves about what it takes to be as successful as they are.

It is not hard to argue that if our Government was as honest with themselves as they could be there are few enough conclusions they could reach.

Though it is nearly always foolish to suggest that sports’ high achievers might be good political leaders that does not mean one cannot learn from the other. There may only be a slight difference in how Brian Cowen and Brian Cody spell their names but maybe we would all benefit if one took the other for a round of golf and they discussed the value of honest self appraisal.


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