No way of gauging how things really are until match day produces the evidence
All the positive vibes and quality training sessions cannot guarantee big-day performances
Dublin manager Anthony Daly shows his frustration as his charges go down meekly to Tipperary at Thurles in the All-Ireland quarter final. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Prior to Dublin’s game with Tipperary last Sunday some of Anthony Daly’s words in the press caught my eye.
“For the first week, anyway, (post Leinster final capitulation) the two training sessions we did were just really purging ourselves and trying to get back on track. But, look, we played Limerick (in a challenge) Friday night and played fairly well, so in fairness to them now they’ve picked up the slack.
“Really, until you go out on Sunday four o’clock, you can’t really know where you are.”
And he’s spot on. You don’t really know how “things” are until five or 10 minutes into the game.
But how does the management gauge how those same “things” are going in the lead-up to the big games? No matter how well or otherwise things went in the last big game there’s always a kind of a concerted effort made in championship week to keep, or if necessary create, a positive atmosphere.
The list of quotes from the boys in the backroom might include “Liam or Tony or Alan (pick any name) is going well tonight. He looks very sharp”.
“There’s a great buzz there tonight,” is another hardy annual.
“You’d definitely know ’twas championship week with all the championship haircuts” is another often trotted out .
“The lads are flying” will definitely be heard as will the usual day of the game gem “the lads are well up for it today”. This “concerted” effort just happens. It actually is never planned but it always happens.
It’s a kind of “bigging up” the camp and all the people in it by the very interested and biased backroom team.
There’s also another conversation that often occurs during championship week. It will probably take place after training and after the usual team topics are trawled over. One of the choosing ones (selectors) might opine that “there was a lack of something there tonight. I just can’t put my finger on it”.
In reality the lack of something is in his own head space. Maybe a tough day at the office or some domestic problem has him in a bit of a low mood.
Is there any way to gauge how things are? How does one gauge how 30 individuals are physically, emotionally and psychologically before a big occasion? How are they sleeping? Are they all hydrating properly? Are they following the dietary regime away from the training ground? How do they, as individuals, deal with the stress, perceived or otherwise? How many of them would class themselves as worriers.
How many of them have that “big-game” temperament? How does the player just coming back from injury convince himself that he has the legs and the mental toughness to push on for the 70 minutes, especially when the little voice in his head is saying otherwise.
So it seems like the variables are infinite. Even if the quality looks impressive at the last training session, post-match does that mean it will transfer into performance on match day?
Retrospection is a powerful tool. How often have we seen the newspaper analyst write on the Monday morning that he could gauge the team’s mental standing or lack of it from the warm-up. He knew that things weren’t right. Keith Barry might be able to interpret the body language but I have my doubts that the analyst/journalist has such powers of observation.
So is it all on the day? Is it the little things that count most when all other variables are fairly equal. Does luck count? The referee will be called to the witness stand when the ashes are being raked over by the losing side. What part does he play?
Last weekend you can be sure that the four teams arrived to their respective team hotels all buoyed up and in a positive frame of mind. The reality was that for two of them the season was ending. The manner and size of defeat were not considerations for any of them.
As it transpired both games were over at half-time.
The malaiseIn the first one, Wexford were in damage limitation territory after the break and, in the second, Dublin needed a whole transformation to halt the malaise that has infiltrated many of their performances this year.
Neither happened and the public went home disappointed with the spectacle (or lack of it). However, Limerick and Tipperary followers are very happy that they live to fight another day.
Were there signs in the Wexford camp last week that they would perform so poorly on Sunday? I’d imagine training and the hype around it masked all signs of the underperformance.
Limerick came into the game with a fair deal of pressure on their collective shoulders. Anything other than a victory would have supplied the naysayers with grist for their particular mill. In that scenario the management would have found it easy enough to keep to keep the players focused.
I’ve no doubt that on Sunday morning both Anthony Daly and Eamonn O’Shea were looking for signs that all was right in their worlds. They should have also found it easy enough to keep their charges in the now. But whether the signs, contrived or otherwise, were positive or not one of the teams didn’t rise above the mediocrity that has been with them since the season began.
As Daly said: “It’s all about what happens on the field on match day”.
Isn’t that a fact.