No better man than John Cuffe to keep the fire stoked – here are some prescient thoughts from him on what a winning mentality means and requires.
Warren Gatland came to that moment when he knew what he had to do had to be done. A call had to be made, it was easy to fudge and not make it but Gatland wanted to be a winner. In dropping Brian O’Driscoll he unleashed the fury of a nation that strangely doesn’t seem to have the same appetite for protest on the economic pillage that has taken place but finds its voice when Thierry Henry handballed us out of a World Cup. That we are screwed to the floorboards for the next fifty years financially instead elicits a wringing of hands and a “shurrr ochon ochon what can we do …they are all as bad as each other”.
Gatland did what he had to do. He stacked his reputation on a new number 13 and this year’s Lions went into history as winners. That Gatland stood on the cliff edge with a posse ready to drive him over had he lost never entered Warren’s mind. Victory was what he wanted…defeat and he would jump himself…no need for the mob.
Andy Murray bridged Fred Perry’s Wimbledon 1936 victory by becoming the first British tennis player since then to gather the coveted gold cup last Sunday. The memory of his slumped body last year, as he lay crushed after Federer beat him, was the pain he needed to ensure that this year was not a repeat. Seventy-seven years of history and gallant Blighty lay on his frame as he locked horns for this year’s title. He prevailed. Now his shoulders will be forever lighter thanks to the lifting of that albatross.
History matters because each year it lays another layer of skin across a flailed back. When Seamus O’Malley arrived at Claremorris train station in September 1936 with a big silver cup in his arms he expected the hackney car to be there. It was and the driver asked him a question “Is that the yoke ye won yesterday?” Seamus replied that indeed it was. He was then driven to the school whence he worked to complete the second half of the day.
The “yoke” O’Malley had in the back of the car was the All Ireland cup…Sam Maguire. No teeming masses just yet…maybe later on that evening but crucially history had laid its first growth of skin. The ’36 men ensured that the 1948-51 men crossed the bridge and joined them. And then like a puff of smoke the connection was broken. It took Murray and all of Britain 77 years to wrest back the golden cup. Gatland didn’t want to be another losing Lions trekker. History laid its hand on both men and they were going to create their own version of it their own way.
Mick Mulderrig died recently. A boy when he won his first All-Ireland, his anger was as fresh last September when I met him as it was against the Louth defender who hung out of him on a September day back in 1951. Anger at our total ineptitude at trying to wrest history’s doors open. Not for him cheap sentiment…the opposite. He demanded that decisions be made so as the burden his team mates carried could be freed. A few weeks ago his soul was liberated and another legend passed away.
Trailing through Twitterland I came across a Tweet. “Is it true that another of the old Mayo bucks has kicked the bucket?” went the Tweet. For a moment a blind rage went across my forehead. I saw red. It was a reference to the great Mick. Had I that buck near me I know the bucket I would have kicked. We live wanting. We want… want…want and want it now, instant gratification.
The person who wrote that tweet didn’t give a damn about Mayo’s past, didn’t give a damn that they insulted a human being and didn’t give a damn for history. And yet if Mulderrig and O’Malley hadn’t won their All-Irelands, we Mayo people would be like Waterford, Sligo, Westmeath and a host of other counties who never won an All-Ireland. The very history that hangs around our neck like an albatross should be used to write a glorious new chapter to go with the proud old ones. Instead we or some of us wait until all those gallant men pass away because we are a superstitious pathetic bunch believing in piseogs.
Gatland wasn’t going to be held prisoner by the past. Gatland saw what the future held and made the decision to kill Bambi and to hell with those who wanted a Hollywood ending for BOD. That’s sport folks…the perfect imperfect. It’s never meant to be scripted. The great Don Bradman that great Australian cricketer had a batting average of 99.94. It’s near perfect. Going into his last test his average was 100.66. All he had to do was turn up, bat and fate and history would record his achievements. It didn’t happen. He was out before he was even in. The English team even tried to help him but to no avail. The river of sport ran its course and even the greatest could not bend it to his wishes. That match and its ducks dropped his batting average below the magical 100 leaving him with a tantalisingly 99.94. Close but no cigar.
We now face the furnaces of late summer. Are we up to it? Will we make the decisions that need to be made? I am of the opinion that Mayo played three All-Irelands where the heart ruled the manager’s head. Of course the manager knows more than ditch dwellers like me but then again that’s why they manage and I climb fences. Is rewarding a faithful servant that still can do a job or going for broke and putting in a player not fully laden with the kudos of the incumbent but just might be the difference the route to go? On such decisions hang the fate of most sports people.
A number of years ago I managed an U16 team. Prior to that I had that group from U10 upwards and we hosed all ahead of us. Not at U16 though. We struggled to a Shield final…that folks by the way is for losers…not my words but the words of one of my astute young backs that year. We got battered in that final and as the rain poured we watched the victors whom we had regularly walloped over the years, gloat in our misery.
One of the parents tried to rally our girls and said “Girls, ye did yere best but ye got no help from the sideline…ye were let down there”. You could hear a penny drop in the pissing rain. He was of course correct. We as a management team had kept the same format from U10 upwards and never adapted to the new circumstances. I swallowed what was left of my pride and as I drove home drenched and depressed I made a vow…nobody would ever say that about me again.
This year we won the county U12A. The group we have are exceptional since eight but other clubs quickly cottoned to our style. This year in the first game we drew, second game we got walloped. I recalled the words of the father in the pissing rain five years earlier and the poor sideline. We tore the plan up and repositioned the players. We changed tactics, we stood on egos but we fashioned a team. The victors’ over us in game two were trampled by us in the recent final.
We seized the moment. Be it Warren Gatland, Andy Murray or be it a pair of old geezers managing a group of kids the dynamics remain the same…we all want to win. It’s the choices we make that ultimately define us. It’s the choices we make that define whether we are in the winner’s enclosure or standing clapping through wet eyes. It’s the decisions we make that that defines whether we are fair game to an angry father on a pissy night in the arse end of Meath surrounded by a broken hearted group of disappointed kids. There is a moment out there. Seizing it is the key.
For Mayo that moment awaits. There is nothing like the present, time does not stand still, neither will Galway or the Rossies and if we want proof just look at London who has taken two scalps once unimaginable. For us our carpe diem moment is now, the day is waiting to be grabbed. Ar aigaidh a gasarí agus bain grim as.