Calm Down, It’s Only September!

While I was engrossed in the excitement of the All-Ireland football final, the news came through that Man United had slumped to their third consecutive loss. The soccer giants lost 3-1 to Watford at Vicarage Road today, a chastening defeat that prompted the usual hysteria and over-reaction among many fans and pundits. Disappointment at your team losing is perfectly understandable of course and distress at defeat is hardly a new phenomenon. A bizarre trend is emerging, though. We are living in a curious age where instant reaction is demanded in these moments and our responses are becoming ludicrously disproportionate, devoid of any semblance of balance or common sense.

The honeymoon is over. While fans were somewhat divided over the vexed appointment of Jose Mourinho, it’s fair to say the overwhelming majority were prepared to give the controversial Portuguese manager a chance. And it all started so promisingly. A decent preseason, one that heralded a smattering of marquee signatures, was followed by a good start to the league. Typical of the new manager, the performances were functional rather than overly spectacular, but the results were coming and there seemed to be intent to play attacking football. I saw the first home game against Southampton and I must say I was very impressed with the United performance. The hosts were organised and efficient, and new signing Paul Pogba looked every inch the superstar in midfield. Certainly his inflated price tag didn’t look excessive that evening.

Granted, things haven’t gone too well since. Last week’s deflating loss in the Manchester derby was followed up by Europa League disappointment in Rotterdam. Today’s reverse against Watford has therefore topped off a rather horrendous week from a United viewpoint. And I get the fact that these losses aren’t mere statistics. There’s a context to all of this. Admittedly, I haven’t seen all the matches, but I understand that the performances as much as the results have caused concern. The City performance, in particular, was a profound reality check. The final score hardly did justice to the extent of City’s pervasive dominance. I tuned out before the end, but the Premier League favourites were mesmerising in the Manchester derby. City were fantastic, exhibiting a blistering pace that was combined with pin-point accuracy. Make no mistake, this was as emphatic a 2-1 victory as you’ll ever see. If City had taken their chances in the first half, it could have been really embarrassing for Mourinho. United have seen it all before with a Pep Guardiola team, of course. That bloody carousel! Today’s defeat punctured the Mourinho bubble further. A 3-1 loss to Watford. A reverse of this nature was always going to spell the end of the honeymoon.

Disappointment I understand. But I don’t get the hysteria. A cursory look at some of the post-game reaction unearthed the usual internet hyperbole and overreaction. Football commentary has become so tabloid. Everything’s a crisis. I’ve seen several comments on Twitter today, that openly question Mourinho’s tenure. United’s boss is getting slated by elements on the internet and social media. Unfavourable comparisons are even being made with immediate predecessors Louis Van Gaal and the unfortunate David Moyes. Moyes, in particular, proved fatally vulnerable to similar levels of impatience when he was shown the door with indecent haste ten months into a six-year contract. Mourinho will certainly be given more time, but he must find such commentary extremely perplexing. Let’s not lose our heads here. We’re only five games into the league season. There’s plenty of football to be played.

I’m not Mourinho’s biggest fan, but his record tells you there’s absolutely no need to panic. The man’s a perpetual winner, who invariably gets the job done in the end. What we’re seeing here isn’t based on calm and rational analysis. It’s hysteria and an extreme form of hysteria at that. We live in a world that demands instant success. Everything has to be expeditious and immediate. These days, we don’t wait to make our judgements. We offer them instantaneously and without mercy. Patience is viewed almost as an old-fashioned concept. In the modern era, football supporters demand immediate success and expect their teams to win every game. Expectations are less realistic than ever. Fans baulk at the idea of giving a manager time to make his mark.

If a match is lost, then the manager is in trouble. Lose a couple of games and it’s magnified into a full-blown crisis. Crisis? The word has lost all meaning in the modern vernacular. Wars and famines are crises. Losing a few football matches constitutes a blip, a transient setback from which great managers like Mourinho inevitably recover. These modern trends have eroded our sanity and sense. We’ve lost the power of perspective. Social media hasn’t helped in this regard. The demand for instant judgement and rapid reaction is insatiable. It’s a relentless, self-serving monster. But we’re all in trouble when fans are getting perturbed by the loss of a couple of early season games. Sport is an emotive business and it’s easy to get caught up in the madness. Anyone getting too hot and bothered really need to take a step back, though. Calm down dears, it’s only September!

P.S. For those who missed it, Dublin and Mayo served up a cracker at Croke Park today. The game ended as a draw, but the result was in doubt until virtually the last kick of the contest. Whenever the Dubs threatened to pull away, Mayo came back and the Connacht men showed great heart to tie up a game that seemed lost. It’s hard to resist the thought that today was Mayo’s best chance for the Sam. They were, by common consent, the better team and would surely have won were it not for the costly concession of two own-goals. One hopes they have enough in the tank to go again. The replay promises to be unmissable viewing!

Twitter: @RoryMcGimpsey

Image courtesy of Wikipedia: By Aleksandr Osipov (José Mourinho) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

File:José Mourinho in Kyiv, October 2015.jpg

GAA: The Heart and Soul of Ireland

I visited Kilkenny for the first time last weekend. My wife and I were attending a friend’s wedding and took the opportunity to enjoy a long weekend in a beautiful county. Rural Kilkenny is a wonderfully scenic and photogenic place. Its views are simply stunning. However, Kilkenny city was the real and unexpected delight. The street signs hail Kilkenny as the Medieval City and it’s easy to understand why. The city is dominated by a large castle and its clean, cobbled streets are evocative of a lost age. We were extremely lucky in that the weather was kind, enabling us to enjoy leisurely strolls through Kilkenny city. We took a sightseeing tour on the Sunday and marvelled at Kilkenny’s rustic facades and ornate churches. There was no shortage of pubs and restaurants either. It was easy to see why hordes of tourists had flocked to this unheralded gem. I know I sound like a Fáilte Ireland employee here (who needs Trip Advisor?), but I think it’s nice to share pleasant destinations. After all, I wish somebody had told me about Kilkenny before now. I thoroughly recommend this delightful city for anyone remotely inclined to go.

I saw something else in Kilkenny too. Something besides the tourist trail. Probably for the first time, I realised the overarching and ubiquitous reach of the GAA. Of course as an Irish sports fan, I know about the intrinsic relevance of the organisation to Irish life and culture. However, it’s only when you visit somewhere like Kilkenny that you really understand the significance of the GAA. Our visit coincided with the Senior Hurling semi-final between Kilkenny and Waterford. The game ended as a pulsating draw, although Brian Cody’s men predictably prevailed in last night’s replay. Hurling is massive in Kilkenny. It has to be seen to be believed. Even with the mass exodus to Croker, the city was absolutely buzzing with excitement. The love of hurling was everywhere. You see, in Kilkenny there are no replica Man United, Liverpool, or Arsenal shirts. There isn’t the usual glory hunters rocking up in Man City tops (ten years ago, did anyone support City?). Literally every other person was wearing a Kikenny shirt. Forget the Red Devils. In these parishes, it’s all about The Cats.

The experience encapsulates what the GAA means to the people of Ireland. In defining the role of the organisation, we can’t really generalise. The GAA means different things to different people. That said, there are several characteristics that go some way to defining the enduring success of the association. While the GAA is undoubtedly a key part of the cultural fabric of Irish life, it’s much more than that. The GAA is about community. It’s about both local pride and national identity. It’s about association and affiliation; an identification with your parish and locality. It’s about volunteerism and amateurism. The GAA is about all these things and much more. In my opinion, the secret of the GAA’s success is that it works on several levels. It’s both parochial AND national. Its influence pervades the length and breadth of Ireland. From Skibbereen to Ballycastle, the GAA arouses passions and interests throughout the land.

As a rugby fan, I understand the GAA’s appeal. In fact, I see a lot of parallels between the sports. The club ethos, the Corinthian spirit, the emphasis on physical dominance and hard work. The sports share these characteristics. The difference is scale. While rugby is a minority sport-albeit a successful one-Gaelic games are the undisputed national sports of Ireland, possessing an appeal that’s difficult to contest. Only in Limerick, where rugby is the game of the people, does the oval ball game come close to challenging the GAA’S dominance. And therein lies the rub. Ireland is a small country. Despite that, we consistently manage to punch above our weight in the international arena in a variety of sports. However, the global ambitions of rugby, soccer, and every other international sport in Ireland are always going to be curtailed by a critical factor. For any Irish sport to be globally successful, it has to find a way to persuade young people to choose it over the others. In so doing, it has to compete with the GAA. The influence of the GAA, therefore, places an inbuilt restriction on the growth of other sporting codes.

That’s not the GAA’s problem, though. While other sports struggle for relevance in a world littered with increasing distractions, the GAA goes from strength to strength. Witness the new generations lining up to play and follow Gaelic games in substantial numbers. Rival sports can only look on with envy, demoralised by the reality that the success of the GAA can’t be emulated. It’s simply not possible for any other organisation to knit its way into the fabric of Irish life on the same terms. It just can’t happen. You only need to talk to GAA fans to appreciate the scale of their devotion. I was chatting to a Donegal fan last night and while he was disappointed with his team’s exit from the championship, he had plenty of ideas about what the county had to do to improve next season. I suspect he could have talked GAA for hours. And that’s the essence of it. When GAA folk talk about their sport, they betray a passionate affection that’s just not seen in other codes. Because GAA isn’t a hobby. It’s a way of life.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. As an outsider, I read with interest the Gaelic football pundits who argue that their sport has become too defensive. The demands for rule changes are interesting. Maybe Gaelic football has become too tactical and complicated? I’m not really qualified to offer a view. I understand that there’s also a disconnect between the county and club game that needs to be addressed. I also think, going forward, the GAA still has some way to go in terms of outreach. As someone born and bred in an area-North Down-that isn’t renowned as a GAA stronghold, I can see a huge untapped potential that’s yet to be explored fully. The GAA has evolved from its political origins to become a thoroughly modern and inclusive organisation. Wouldn’t it be great if that process was taken a step further?-uniting Catholic, Protestant, and dissenter, to coin a phrase! Why not? In modern, pluralist Ireland, anything is possible. That said, it’s easy to criticise the GAA for what is isn’t, when we should be celebrating it for what it is. The heart and soul of Ireland. While some may yawn if Kilkenny’s giants win their 37th All-Ireland title in a few weeks, there’s sure to be one hell of a party in one of the most beautiful cities in Ireland.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia: [[File:Cillian Buckley.jpg|Cillian Buckley]]


Twitter: @RoryMcGimpsey