There is nothing more anachronistic in the world of modern sport than the title of team captain. Many years ago I wrote a piece for Shankly Gates on the preposterousness that attaches itself to the choice of captain in most sports. A captain is important in cricket, less (and increasingly less) important in rugby and not at all important in any other team sport. Take a sport like American football. Once upon a time, the quarterback had a decisive roll in what the next play was going to be. Now they can barely sneeze without the say-so of the coach. As for the oft-referenced inspirational role that captains bring to a sport, are players any less influential for not being captain? It’s a splendid honuor to be captain, and you get to pick up the cup on the big day should your team be so fortunate. But the impact on a team’s performance in, say, hurling is zilch.
So why am I bothered by the suggestions that Waterford are going to have two captains for 2009? Why should I be bothered at such a decision if I think the role is so meaningless? It’s not that the honour is being diminished. Having the son of Vanessa and James McGarry play such a prominent part of the presentation of the 2007 McCarthy Cup with Henry Shefflin didn’t diminish or enhance the captaincy one iota. The presentation of the trophy to two people has been quite common over the years, whether it be Kerry using two men in 2006 or Liverpool going through three seperate combos during their treble success of 2001. And for all the chutzpah of showing Messrs Houllier and Evans above, there is not going to be confusion over demarcation or anything like that since the role has no function apart from collecting the gongs. So there’s no need to worry, right?
It’s the gimmick that bothers me. Having one captain from the Western Division and one from the Eastern Division makes it seem as if there is a sense of competition between the two halves of Waterford, a culchie / townie divide. Maybe I’m being naive, but I haven’t noticed this in recent times. City players dominated the team for the the first half of this decade, with Mount Sion and Ballygunner in the ascendancy. But the last few years have seen things swing out Dungarvan way, with nine of the team that started against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final coming from the west of the county. One of the perceived benefits of outside coaches is the elimination of parochial choices in the team. If Davy Fitz feels the need to bolster this, he’s obviously not doing one of his main functions properly.
There’s also the fear of ridicule. If Waterford win the All-Ireland, no one is going to think “jeez, having only one captain was clearly where they’ve being going wrong all these years!” But if – such a little if – they lose, the usual trolls will be scoffing at such ‘innovations’ taking precedence over developing better hurlers. And yes, these things matter. It’s important to fight, and be seen to fight, the good and dignified fight.
This may all just be a ball of smoke. There’s nothing on the web that says this is in the offing and I base it all on a report heard on WLR. But it’s a silly idea that needs to be nipped in the bud. Say it ain’t so, Davy!
Update: confirmation of the truth of this story. A strange affair, and no mistake.