Failure is always an option


RTÉ interviewer: Art McRory, congratulations on reaching the All-Ireland final, a great achievement.

Art McRory: Reaching an All-Ireland final is not an achievement. Winning one is.

There was a right blast from the past over the weekend as sid wallace (not his real name), formerly of the An Fear Rua parish, popped up on and immediately made his presence felt. While it may be tempting to dismiss such a truculent character as sid with the troll label, he never struck me as one during his AFR days. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, and he saw fools everywhere, but he was never contrary just to wind people up. Michael Ryan is entitled to question the wisdom of players who hit a stack of wides against Clare, and sid is entitled to point out that he was the man who sent out the players and they were playing to his game plan. You can dislike his opinion all you like, and I don’t think it’s the correct way of looking at Waterford’s implosion against Clare. But as far as my experience of the man can tell, it’s a sincere opinion and doesn’t fit the old school definition of a troll. Unless you think it just means someone giving a contrary opinion, in which case the word has come to have no meaning.

You may think this Voltairian line of reasoning might better belong on the thread, and thus far you’d be right. However, his question asking why “are we clapping ourselves on the back for not beating them?” deserves a more considered response. Failing that, this one will have to do. It’s a stick regularly used to beat teams that don’t go all the way, i.e. that if you go into a game thinking you’ll probably lose then you definitely will. sid wallace’s opinion is similar to the denunciation expressed to my sister by a member of the Dublin branch of the Waterford GAA Supporters Club when they planned to have a shindig prior to the 2008 All-Ireland final. Have it when we won it, said the denunciator, and they probably thought the scale of the massacre could be explained by the defeatist mentality of having a get-together before we’d got our hands on the Liam McCarthy Cup. The opinions of sid and this man are so spookily similar that you might think they were the same person. You might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment . . . Anyway, as Art McRory noted in the above quote that I recall hearing after Tyrone had beaten Galway in the 1986 All-Ireland football semi-final, there’s nothing objectively special about reaching an All-Ireland final – just ask Mayo – and if that’s all you aspire to then you can forget about ever making the final push to glory.

As someone who believes that Waterford teams have to overcome the handicap of history, this is an idea that should appeal to me. But it doesn’t, and for the reason it doesn’t you need look no further than the words of Art McRory and the impact they had on Tyrone. It was all very well Art talking the talk but when Tyrone found themselves seven points clear of Kerry they were unable to walk the walk and it would be another seventeen years before Tyrone reached the promised land. You might argue that  the 80’s was a different time in the GAA, when teams from Ulster were so cowed that they viewed their only hope of reaching an All-Ireland final was in the third year when they were up against the champions of Connacht. Or you could just ask Waterford. So for a more contemporary viewpoint on the pointlessness of talking yourself up, let’s get the words of Joe Dooley. As someone who won three All-Irelands, the third of which in 1998 was the last time a county outside the Big Three won the big one, you think he’d know something about the benefits of bigging up your ability. And while manager of the Offaly hurlers in recent years, he was having none of it:

In my time as Offaly Manager, our mantra always was that we would be as well prepared as we could be to take advantage of any dip in form by Kilkenny who were playing at a different level. I am sure Dublin’s approach was very similar and all their perseverance and hard work has paid off this year.

No blarney from Joe about wiring into them from the word go or how to not stop believing. You prepare as well as you can, hope that you hit 100% of your potential and that the other lot don’t fire on all cylinders on the day. Don’t insult the intelligence of players by telling them that they’re better than the opposition when clearly they’re not, and hope the innate pride in the jersey will see them through. Anything else is to engage in the magic of self-delusion.

Now, none of this is to say that there are no psychological barriers for a team to overcome. Looking at Dublin come up short against Cork last week, I wondered whether that failure will count against them in years to come in much the way our near misses in the early 00’s began to fester as the decade went on. Rome wasn’t built in a day though, and you’re not going to burst through those hangups by one spectacular win. It’ll be by the accumulation of the little wins, ranging from the Primary game between the Intermediate and Senior game in the Munster championship to Minor semi-finals in Croke Park, that the demons will be slain. sid says that if Michael Ryan is “the best we can get we may throw our hats at it“. So if it were to be demonstrated that he was the best we could do, would sid seriously suggest giving up on hurling? I’d like to think not. We play to win, but more importantly you have to play to play. To not play is the biggest failure of them all.