“I WANT 10,000 tough guys, and I want 10,000 soft guys to make the tough guys look tougher. And here’s how I want them arranged: tough, tough, soft, tough, tough, soft, soft, tough, soft.
“Sir, I’m afraid you’ve gone mad with power…..
“Of course I have. Have you ever tried going mad without power? It’s boring, no one listens to you.”
It’s not often the Simpsons’ Movie provides an accurate synopsis of the GAA world, if ever. Plenty would argue however, that Rory Gallagher and Pádraic Joyce have gone “mad with power” on occasions. On Sunday, that argument would have gathered legs off the back of league final defeats for Derry and Galway.
But sometimes madness isn’t such a bad thing after all. There is a certain unpredictability in it. With both Joyce and Gallagher, they could speak a thousand words without ever opening their mouths. They could speak for a day and say nothing at all. That unpredictability renders them more than a bit mad.
There is that Roy Keane type of fear that demands a certain level of respect. But in the madness there’s a little bit of magic, if you believe in that kind of thing.
Virgin Media’s ‘Finding Jack Charlton’ portrayed a man who had finally begun to lose a life-long battle with insanity. Towards the end, his face was sullen, his eyes emptied to the point where you could see right through him. In fact, if anything, the recklessness and the mayhem was gone. In his illness, he was more stable than ever.
There is no engagement, as his wife sits and holds his hand and hopes that his mind is active and wandering in some way. Events that morning are at best a distant memory.
Yet still a fire burns inside. He is shown an image of Paul McGrath. The colour returns to his eyes and the brain ticks over. McGrath, a sporting legend, solid as a rock, and you’d hear more complaints from the rock itself. The unassuming hero who repelled the Italians like his life depended on it.
And maybe it did. His troubled teens, tainted with racism and alcohol, could have led him down an altogether different path. Charlton may well have seen himself in a young McGrath, and put his madness back on the leash. Among endless handwritten notes, one stands out:
“Be a dictator, but a nice one”.
It’s all about striking a balance, but in sport, it’s striking a balance on a tightrope after eight pints. Dictatorships don’t tend to end with claps on the back and high fives, with the end of the Charlton era no different.
Managing the present while sculpting the future. Pre-empting the unforeseeable. Andy Farrell’s Grand-Slam winning Ireland spoke so much of embracing adversity. This year’s All-Ireland Football Championship may well be a crash course on adversity for most managers, if not all.
It remains to be seen who will strike that balance, with this year’s competition uncharted territory. Dessie Farrell rated Dublin’s league campaign a 6.5 out of 10, where they huffed and puffed by times, but ultimately won seven games from eight. That isn’t a bad spot to be in, with Louth and Westmeath looking like the most likely Leinster pretenders right now.
The Leinster final is still six weeks away, while the 16-team group format that follows likely requires only one win to secure progression. Even if Dublin, or Kerry for that matter, suffer a calamitous collapse provincially, they should still saunter through the group phase.
What all that means is they would not need to start peaking until June.
For Dublin, there was little choice other than to be promoted from Division Two. Jack O’Connor’s only concern meanwhile was avoiding relegation. A league final would have been a bonus, but league medals in the Kingdom are far from gold dust. They’re about as useful as a fist full of coppers at the toll bridge.
But outside of Kerry and the capital, there is opportunity aplenty.
Which takes us nicely back to Gallagher and Joyce. They have more pressing issues in the coming weeks. The Nestor Cup has regained a nice level of prestige in recent years, with Galway claiming three titles and Roscommon and Mayo earning two each since the Green and Red won five-in-a-row.
This year, Galway await the winners of the league champions and a rejuvenated Roscommon under Davy Burke. The other side is almost equally as interesting, where it will likely be either Leitrim or Sligo battling for a final place and a spot in the race for Sam Maguire.
To their credit, it seems as though Joyce and Kevin McStay set out their stall out from day one with the intention of winning the league. The provincial championship will be no different, where each and every team in Connacht will genuinely harbour ambitions of reaching a final.
Peter Canavan made the argument on last week’s ‘Allianz League Sunday’ that the race for Sam should be solely dictated by league standings, but even just a glance at Connacht and you can see there is cause for genuine optimism. Louth, Meath, Westmeath, Kildare, and Offaly all also have a reasonable shout of making Croke Park with silverware on the line. Clare and Cork likewise in Munster.
The provincial championships need to have some element of reward.
If a Leitrim or a Sligo were to topple a team in the group phase, then they would likely have another huge day out in the final 12.
And all that is without even mentioning Ulster. Armagh tog out this weekend, with their opponents Antrim joining them as the only teams not to make a provincial decider since 2017.
Have they regressed, or have they just altered their playing style? Will relegation knock them, or are they timing their run, with a more flexible game management approach? This weekend sees the questions diminish and the answers come flying in like the swallows of summer.
It’s new, it’s improved, but it’s still the championship. And it’s time to do battle once again.