Elation and dejection are interwoven into the fabric of all sport. Joy and despair. Good and bad. After nearly a quarter of a century attending events, they’ve all been encountered. Perhaps the troughs more easily recalled than the peaks. Meath losing Leinster and All Ireland finals, when Dunboyne lose a final in anything or don’t get where it’s desired they were. Or when Harchibald didn’t win that Champion Hurdle.
One upset surpasses them all in its painfulness. And it relates to nothing which occurred on a GAA, rugby or soccer pitch, or on a racecourse either. It concerns what would’ve been a prized asset that was let slip away from under the relevant noses. One which, if things were done right and the acquisition was completed, would’ve positively altered circumstances in the arena concerned to an indescribable degree.
What grates most about the failure in question is the gnawing sense that not all that could’ve been done was to stop it becoming that, a failure. It’s probably right, you know, you most likely do learn more from failure than success. Questions arise too though. Like, how far can you push your own boundaries? Or, more pointedly, how far are you willing to push them? In the case most painful, the over-riding feeling is one of immense regret that all wasn’t done which could’ve been.
As was stated in another column recently, two of the greatest motivational factories that exist are being told you can’t do something or, worse still, seeing someone else doing what you wanted to. Thence, in truth, do most sporting rivalries begin. One of the first quotes attributed to Sean Boylan after his appointment as Meath manager was “They don’t eat any better spuds than we do” – referencing the irregularity with the county had, at that point, beaten their greatest rivals, Dublin.
To alter that, things had to be changed – maybe mostly mindsets. Boylan inculcated his teams with a sense of their own worth and ability. As did – and do – many other great managers. More than that, however, he devised for them a style of play which suited the sum of their parts. Quips about pushing boundaries might arise, but, the bottom line is, the methods deployed achieved desired outcomes.
Don’t forget, no matter how it might be dressed up, it’s all about results. In a results driven situation, the groundhog scenario is seeing others where you want to be. Few could argue that the Leinster rugby team of which Brian O’Driscoll was the fulcrum was the finest their arena has seen in a very long time.
There’s a sense now – granted, it may just be all in the mind – that a transitional period is either on the way or has already begun now that the great man has departed. What they achieved at their zenith was as outstanding as it was glorious to watch unfold. Other quarters will have been enviously looking on. Undoubtedly respectful of a great team’s unquantifiable achievements, yet aching to be them, to be where they are.
None more so than Munster. They of course followed the lead of Ulster in garnering glory at European level, before Leinster too achieved such greatness before going on to attain spades more of it, marking them down as arguably the greatest ‘club’ rugby side there has been in the professional era.
Munster are not the force they once were. A fact underscored by a realisation that what was once regarded as Fortress Thomond has in more recent times resembled a public thoroughfare. Of greater concern, mind you, will have been a necessary acknowledgment that they have slipped. In this era of professional sport, the stereotyped reaction has been to defenestrate the team management – if they haven’t already vacated of their own volition.
Say of hindsight what you will, but, gut feeling always was that Rob Penney’s stewardship of the province wouldn’t work out. Simply out of an inclination that he had employed a style of play which was alien to them.
In such circumstances, instinct foretold that the brains trust down south might return to a local coach. That said, seeing them install an entirely indigenous coaching structure was quite surprising and no small gamble. One which doomsayers will undoubtedly have hopped to declare a failure with Anthony Foley’s side having being usurped twice at home recently.
Now, of course that situation isn’t ideal, but, regardless of who it is, it takes time for any new team management to impose their influence up their charges. However, Foley et al were probably aided by the fact that Leinster appeared on the fixture schedule as quickly as was the case. In fact, coming on the back of two defeats, it could hardly have been timed better.
Simply because, if Munster couldn’t lift their game for Leinster, they wouldn’t for anyone. The same surely applies the other way round too. Most noticeable was the fact that the eventual victors returned to their famed – and highly successful – style of multiple phases of pick and drive.
While it would be foolhardy to read too much into a result at this juncture, it appears Munster are back on a road well travelled in terms of playing style and are bound to be better for it.