Shane Curran – weekly column on Sportstalk.ie
I have a very good friend whose specialty is in breeding pedigree Angus cattle. He does a super job. He will halter and train them until they’re quiet and friendly, ready to show at the best of sales, their ‘All Ireland.’ He’ll feed them only the finest of premium nuts and they’ll graze only on the best of grass.
The animals, all of which are of thoroughbred quality, are walked and talked to like a child. He has done this job or, as he says himself “his hobby”, for many years. Painfully training, exercising, coaching, washing, cleaning until his championship arrives, the sales, the All-Ireland. After years and years of practice, low and behold he wins the All-Ireland with his prize bull, Eric.
No ordinary bull – a great bull. Paddy has got his reward. Hard work, long hours training, pulling and dragging the one and half tonne bull. He’s a hard man. He’s also been doing the right thing but has had to wait his time.
The sign on the gate says, ‘Be sure to be able to run this field in ten seconds, because Eric can do it in nine.’ I’m getting slow and value what may be left in this life so I’ve never tried the challenge.
I’ve watched Eric from a far. He’s too fast and I’m too slow.
But I’ve also watched Eric the bull gaze longingly over the walls at the prized Angus heifers in the beautiful lush green fields, separated only by the three-foot-high limestone rock wall.
He is frustrated looking at what he would, without doubt, thoroughly enjoy.
His manager recognises when it’s time to set him free. The training and hard work is done, he must now enjoy his well-earned reward.
Off he leaps, as happy as the proverbial pig in shit among his willing friends. He has a ball (pardon the pun!) and after all his efforts, he’s panned out with delight. Happy. Rewarded like a champ.
What, you may ask, has this to do with previewing this weekend’s matches. Well f**k all really, but let’s draw some comparisons.
Instead of looking at each game with boring, cold, pre – match bullshit analysis – I’ve read and penned many a pre match piece – I’ll look at the games in a different context.
Frustrating blanket defences, players fear of losing the ball, or God forbid if any player try anything representing skilful play, has been well documented by many a scribe. I hasten to add I’m no Oscar Wilde.
Footballers nowadays are very much like Eric the Bull.
Fifteen of them looking from behind a wall or more appropriately, building a wall, the famed ‘blanket defence’.
They know there’s a prize over the wall but seldom can they jump what they’ve built.
The managers, at least most them, are now coaching the football out of the Bulls. God forbid they might kick the ball forward and it be returned.
The curly finger will start wagging. The poor whore who tried to be inventive with a forty-yard pass finds himself supping on his sponsored Lucozade Sport or some such other so called energy drink. Anyone that would invent a drink that may increase skill capacity would be out of business very quick .
Fear has replaced flair. Defence has replaced attack. The hand pass has replaced the foot pass. Blanket defending has replaced responsibility.
Ironically, the one common denominator of these tactics is that they are the ones adopted by those who rarely win .
Regretfully, not many seem to get the maths of sport. Quite simply, you must score more than your opponent to win any game.
It takes a whole lot more creativity to coach players in how to play attacking football with an emphasis on skill, movement and kicking . Hence, the reliance on so called defending with numbers.
Players are also like Paddy’s stock- of high Pedigree standard, playing and competing at the highest level. They train hard, sacrifice time and career opportunities in the pursuit of high acclaim and achievement. To be successful they need to be unleashed but seldom are allowed to do so, the manager constrained by fear.
Last weekend one pedigree player decided he’d had enough and took the bull by horns. He drove his brethren to victory.
Sean Cavanagh decided he had had enough of looking from behind the wall. He went in pursuit of his reward. Fortune favoured the brave and the brilliant.
Rory Gallagher kept his bulls on the leash, unwilling to allow them roam free . Ultimately frustrated, no reward, no friends and no fun.
Galway and Kevin Walsh also decided it was much better to play expansive, skilful, entertaining football. He let his bulls run free. Spirited, they wreaked havoc and received their just desserts.
This weekend I hope that the managers of high pedigree stock allow them roam free.
Spirited and playful they may well enjoy their freedom. They will leap higher, play better, work harder and ultimately, feast on the fruits of their labour.
Restrained, they’ll end up frustrated. Longingly looking over the cold grey wall defeated and desolate. The long winter looming, regrets a plenty.
Some may not be victors on All Ireland final day, but like Paddy and Eric,
if you keep doing the right thing one day you’ll be champion.
Happy bulls in their field of dreams, shooting it out for fun. And when it’s over everyone is left satisfied.
Shane Curran – Sportstalk Columnist