Impressive Donegal have unity of purpose
THE MIDDLE THIRD:LIKE EVERYBODY else, I’ve been watching plenty of the European Championships over the past few weeks. It’s been highly enjoyable – the Irish games apart, obviously – and in watching the likes of Spain, Germany and Italy, it’s been clear that what goes into making a successful team at the highest level doesn’t change significantly from sport to sport.
If there’s one word to sum it up, it’s “sacrifice”. The individual takes the back seat so that the team prospers.
You would think after he scored his two goals against Ireland last Thursday Fernando Torres would have been untouchable for Spain in their next match against Croatia. Yet when it came time for Spain to make a change as the game stood at 0-0 on Monday night, Torres was the first one to go. He would have been annoyed about it but there was no kicking bottles or sulking or giving out.
By the end of the game, it was his replacement Jesus Navas who scored the winner to make sure Spain went through.
Contrast that with Arjen Robben’s reaction when he was taken off for the Netherlands against Germany last week. He was so put out when he saw his number come up he wouldn’t even run across the width of the pitch to leave the field and instead he just walked off on the side he was standing and made a big show of climbing across the advertising hoarding with a scowl on his face.
It’s no coincidence that heading into the quarter-finals, Spain topped their group and the Netherlands have gone home.
Anyone who watched Donegal last Saturday night saw a team that is totally faithful to the cause throughout the team, with players who are prepared for sacrifice. They aren’t getting involved with their own petty concerns, they’re doing exactly what their team needs them to do. Any team that can keep that togetherness going will be around for a long time.
Here’s an example. One of the things that struck me watching them was that Neil McGee and Karl Lacey both came up from the defence to take shots at goal during the match but, as far as I could make out, the centre half-forward Mark McHugh never had a kick at the posts. Now this is interesting, not so much because the defenders were going for scores – that’s obviously one of the tactics Jimmy McGuinness will employ as he gets his team to evolve – but more so for the attitude of a player like McHugh in that situation.
Think about it. He’s a player who has come up through the ranks at his club as a promising forward, who would have been used to getting his three or four points a game. If he had any ego at all, he’d be looking to get forward into scoring position and to get his name up in lights. But not only did he not take a shot on Saturday, he never looked like making a shape at taking one. He was content just to be a cog in the wheel, doing his bit to sit in front of his full-back line and work and tackle. That’s what you want from everyone, that sacrifice for the team, that devotion to the cause.