Ciarán Murphy: Hating teams, is it who they are, or what they win?

There are many things that go into building up a hatred of sporting teams

Dublin celebrate their six-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles after the win over Mayo at Croke Park last December. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Dublin celebrate their six-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles after the win over Mayo at Croke Park last December. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

England were beaten in the final of the European Championships on Sunday evening, and it’s fair to say that if this didn’t delight 100 per cent of the people in Ireland, it went bloody close. This is the most likeable, most charismatic, most decent collection of English footballers – most decent collection of men – you could wish to meet, but . . . well, that doesn’t seem to matter.

But rather than piously tell you why you should admire this England team, why not delve a little deeper into the philosophy of hatred – why do we hate teams? Is it who they are, or what they win?

Notwithstanding England – 55 years of ‘failure’ and counting – by far the easiest thing to do is draw a direct line between the teams that people dislike and the teams that win. Winning is great – just don’t get too good at it.

It will come as no surprise to anyone from Kilkenny to hear that their team was not very popular for about 15 or 16 years. But beyond the relentless accumulation of All-Ireland titles, was there anything in particular that earned them that antipathy?

The reasons presented now seem a little threadbare. There was the ‘Stepford Wives’ analogy, first made by Donal Óg Cusack in his autobiography, which suggested that the players that made this team tick were interested only in winning, and seemed almost joyless in their hunt for medals.

From our current position in 2021, it’s hard to square that with the lively and forthright media contributions of Tommy Walsh, Jackie Tyrrell, Brian Hogan, even Henry . . . but that was accepted as fact throughout their careers. They had nothing to say, and no interest in saying it.

Brian Cody perhaps reminded a few too many people of the national school principal who’d walk out and confiscate any ball being used to play garrison games in the school yard, but the man couldn’t help it – he was a national school principal, after all.

As we all wrestled with the idea of disliking such a thoroughly likeable England team as this one, we found solace in blaming it all on their fans, as if the team had any control over their supporters’ actions.

It’s quite the same in the GAA. We got sick of Kilkenny winning, but that team’s application and dedication to winning was nothing if not laudable, so we gave out about Kilkenny fans leaving All-Ireland finals early, not waiting around to watch the captain’s speech and laps of honour.

It smacked of arrogance. It certainly stung to see that as a Galway fan in 2012 and 2015, knowing how deliriously a win for us would have been celebrated. But that wasn’t the team’s fault, and it may even have hurt them a little too to see their victory wasn’t even worth a traffic jam to a subset of their supporters.

We have a team in Gaelic football right now winning quite a few All-Irelands. But would it be completely out of line to suggest that the entirely All-Irelandless) Dublin team of the first decade of this century was at least as unpopular as the current iteration?

There was a streak of arrogance, which the players themselves were uncomfortable with, and which I think we’ve subsequently found out was based on insecurity, about the on-field behaviour of that team in the 2000s which turned a lot of people off. The Pat Gilroy era, and the 2011 All-Ireland final win, was seen as a rejection of what had come before – a necessary humility lesson which helped them over the line.

Now when people talk about ‘hating’ the Dubs, they talk about off-field financial advantages, club-less fans who only support their county team, home games all year in Croke Park. but none of that is stuff the Dublin team controls.

The fact of the matter is that hatred of a GAA team is always a grotesque over-statement of one’s feelings. What we ‘hate’, if we hate anything, is either the relentless accumulation of trophies, which is pretty hard to do anything about when winning is the fundamental reason for playing top-level sport in the first place, or an apparently unjustified arrogance – the sort of thing levelled at the Dubs in the 2000s, and more recently and even more inaccurately at the Mayo team of recent years.

Corofin have won plenty of Galway county championships over the last 30 years, but I’d hesitate to say that they’re hated in Galway club football. At least during my club playing career in the 2000s, they took a year on/year off approach to winning the county title, which we all appreciated massively, it must be said.

They won 11 titles in 20 years from 1991 to 2011, and almost without fail they’d take a year off after winning a county final. Whether by accident or design, this was a most accommodating arrangement, one which sadly went by the wayside in more recent years.

I don’t want to tell Dessie Farrell his business, but if he reckons top-level sport is a popularity contest, then the turn-of-the-century Corofin method is really something to think about.

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