Jonathan O’Neill extolled exemplary levels of devotion. So too his now erstwhile manager Casey Dunne. Yet it’s most likely that only aficionados of Wicklow hurling will known of their service. The small ball code has such disciples everywhere. Player and manager took their leave recently after 23 and six years respectively.
In Meath – and as usual these are only a few examples, they could be numerous – thoughts turn to people like Paddy Kelly, John Andrews, Kevin Dowd, current manager Martin Smith as well as others such as John Reilly and Paul Reilly who over the years have swam against the tide to keep the ship afloat when decamping to the life rafts would’ve won those of weaker spirit over.
Perhaps, however, the greatest aspect of doing their locality some service in such instances comes from the players. Who, in full knowledge there’s often little or any chance of garnering tangible reward for their efforts do so solely for the love the love of the game and the pride and satisfaction of representing their locality.
Indeed, as the All Ireland football championships become alarmingly more lopsided, it is rapidly becoming a situation that is becoming every bit as relevant to Gaelic football as it has been to hurling for longer.
Whether it be Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork or – at a push – Dublin in hurling or Dublin, Kerry Donegal, Monaghan and possibly one from Cork or Galway or Mayo in the other code, the fact is that outside of these elitists – and titling them thus isn’t undertaken lightly – the rest are operating in a different world.
Worryingly for the sake of connoisseurs of entertaining sport, a similar malaise has long inhibited the other most people form of football throughout the world. And that is without getting into the governance of the game which – at the highest level anyway – has been exposed as a world of corrupt deceit.
However, even in terms of what goes on concerning those on the field, surely the disconnect between clubs and those who should be and used to be the central figures therein, the fans, has never been greater. There have been several times when such thoughts have held court previously, though surely things have never been as detached from reality as is now the case.
Reconciling Carlo Ancelotti being defenestrated from Real Madrid a year after masterminding a tenth European Cup or, perhaps even more so, the largely unproven Raheem Sterling being valued at anything in the region of £50m only heightens such realisations and accordingly from a viewing perspective dilutes levels of enjoyment.
As does, mind you, the seemingly ever increasing whirls of conjecture surrounding the future of Sterling’s current manager, Brendan Rodgers. The Antrim native is obviously not possessed of the same media magnetism as Mourinho or Pellegrini or Van Gaal or Wenger. That notwithstanding, his achievements, most pointedly at Swansea, when garnished with a bit of context, stand comparison with many of his peers. After all wasn’t it his moulding of Swansea into a side that played exciting, entertaining football presumably one of the driving factors behind John W Henry et al recruiting him to succeed Kenny Dalglish.
Cognisance of the onerous task which even attempting to replace that man amounts to ought to have bought Rodgers a consignment of leeway. As, indeed, should have guiding a club who had manifestly struggled to impose a meaningful impact upon the Premiership for so long to become genuine contenders – seemingly – so quickly.
Their inability to cross the line when all noteworthy obstacles appeared to have been negotiated owed more to a lack of inner insulation on the part of the playing staff – the now former captain excepted – than anything the manager did or didn’t do.
Where questionability enters discussions surrounding the Anfield boss, though, is concerning his alacrity in inputting enormous sums of money into transfer operations and not getting anywhere near value for money in terms of output. If anything, it could be argued, maybe not unreasonably, that regarding Liverpool’s multiple plunders at Southampton, the equally admirable Ronald Koeman’s club got the better value from those transactions.
Thus, the Liverpool boss’s next spate of shopping – and it appears he’ll be left in situ to go browsing – will come under even greater scrutiny. Thing is, regardless of who he is able to entice, the feeling is that the biggest faux pas on his watch wasn’t in relation to any of his acquisitions, but the timidity with which Steven Gerrard was allowed to leave.
Manchester City recognised the value in snapping up Frank Lampard when he was perhaps prematurely cut adrift by Chelsea. Likewise Arsenal when they brought Thierry Henry back to the club. All of which leads one to believe that even if Rodgers were ostracised it may not make much of a fundamental difference.
In the long run, letting Gerrard go may yet turn out to be an equally daft piece of business than anyone being willing to pay the astronomical sums being associated with Sterling.