When black is white, and the underdog is the favourite

It took me a while to ‘get’ Twitter, and even now I can’t quite get my head around the desire to tell everyone about your most recent visit to the latrines. Still, it’s very useful for getting an instant snapshot from people with the same passions as yourself. The dream of even the lowliest tweeter must be to start a trend, or at least establish a commonly used hashtag. It’s highly likely that #mayogaa was brought to prominence by the indefatigable Willie Joe of Green and Red. It is through that hashtag that I’ve being following the collective delight in Mayo at the supposed dismissive attitude of the entire punditocracy at their chances of beating Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Oh, just what Mayo were looking for! This would get them fired up like nothing else, and besides shure don’t Mayo approach a match best when we’re underdogs, right?

Wrong. There might be a smidgin of merit in the notion that trash-talking a team beforehand gives them an added incentive to ram such talk back down the throat from which they originated, but it’s a microscopic smidgin. Conor Counihan will be a little irked at such talk on the basis that there’s no need to leave any hostages to fortune, but it’s hard to believe inter-county players routinely operate at below-capacity levels of effort (NB for the purposes of this piece, please ignore Galway’s performance last Sunday). If they do, they’re not doing it right. Lots of players would be offended by comments to the effect that the likes of John Mullane is great because he always gives it his all, as if the rest of them don’t give it their all. The reason the other players don’t take umbrage is that it’s just a corny media cliché trotted out to spare hacks the need to come up with anything original, something that will only get worse now that they can’t hack phones.

An idea with even less merit is the one which states that a team prefers to come into a game as underdogs. Waiting in the long grass, coming in under the radar, nothing to lose, no pressure. Listen folks, there’s a reason Mayo are underdogs against Cork and Waterford are underdogs against Kilkenny – Cork and Kilkenny are the better teams. That’s not to say neither Mayo or Waterford should bother turning up, but the superiority of the opposition players means an awful lot needs to go their way for the respective underdogs to upset the odds and no amount of deflecting pressure onto said opposition will change that.

There’s a simple way of looking at it. If Waterford/Mayo were to play Kilkenny/Cork one hundred times, we/Mayo would be doing well to win twenty times. Those are ball park figures, and in a lame attempt to avoid drawing the ire of #mayogaa I’d hazard that Mayo could probably expect to do a bit better than that. But all we/Mayo can do is prepare well and hope that the next match is one of those twenty occasions. By all means embrace the underdog status as a means of preparing for the worst. But saying ‘we’re underdogs and that’s the way we like it’ is nonsense. We’ve been underdogs more often than we’ve been favourites, and given our record . . .

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. . . I wouldn’t mind giving this ‘favourites’ thing a lash.

Update: since I started writing this post, John Fogarty of the Irish Examiner has put up a better summation of the lack of mileage to be had from constantly invoking slights as motivation. Money quote from Kieran McGeeney:

It’s never put to bed listening to some of the punditry! Somewhere along the line you’re going to lose and what they say about you is gonna be right.

As they say on the stage, never argue with the man with the microphone.

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