Football: Everyone gives out about the blanket defence but no-one ever tries the alternative: all-out attack. Okay, it’s mainly supporters and pundits that are weary of all this backs-to-the-wall stuff – players and bainisteoirs seem to love it. They’re like some latter day Mrs Doyle before she set off on her Lenten pilgrimage.
Ted: “Have fun.”
Mrs Doyle: “Oh, I don’t want it to be any fun at all, Father. I want a good miserable time.”
The more bodies you can cram into a zonal defence; the more inclined shoulder presses you perform in a gym circuit, the longer you can go without cracking a smile on the field, the happier the modern inter-county player is.
Hopefully in 2012 there’ll be an overall lightening of the mood. Maybe there’ll be the GAA equivalent of the Brazil team of 1982 who saw football as a form of art, not just toil. Okay, they failed, but they failed gloriously and people still talk about them. Will anybody be talking about Donegal v Antrim in 30 years’ time? Actually, they might, it was that grim.
Hurling: Somebody, anybody, must emerge from the chasing pack and smash the Kilkenny-Tipperary hegemony. Dublin, Galway and Waterford hint at major breakthroughs but they remain a stubborn half-step off the pace. Clare, for the first time since the mid-nineties, have a genuinely exciting bunch of young players coming through. Limerick are beginning to see the fruits of underage success, in particular at Colleges level.
Cork, a hurling county with a rich tradition and a huge playing population, should be All-Ireland semi-finalists in a bad year. But things are dire down by the Lee. Years of county board hostility towards a gifted crop of players have taken their toll on the unity and motivation needed to succeed. Jimmy Barry-Murphy managed to bring it all together in the past. For the sake of the game, Cork need to reacquaint the rest of the hurling world with the real Rebel force. I’ll admit to being hopelessly partial here but, to me, there is no sight in sport like a Cork team on the charge in Thurles or Croke Park. There’s something elemental about that roaring red wave.
At this stage, though, anyone on an irresistible charge against Kilkenny or Tipp would be exhilarating. The skill levels in top-flight hurling have never been higher but, unfortunately, the level of excitement does not correspond when only two of the eight horses are backable.
Soccer: The results are important, but the performances more so. Call me overly-idealistic but I’d rather see Ireland play well and play positively, without fear or inhibition, in Poland this June. And, you never know, if we keep the ball the ball and commit the odd midfielder forward we just might be in danger of getting Giovanni Trapattoni’s all-crucial result.
Rugby: A Munster-Leinster Heineken final (with Munster winning) would be a tonic. But I’d settle for Munster building on their resurgence. Leinster have what it takes to put European Cups back to back so Godspeed to them. As an Irish man in London, I wish London Irish would move back to town with a few more Irish players in tow.
For the national side, I wish for consistency; hitting our peak performance as a matter of course, not just when we’ve got an axe to grind (England) or when we’re written off (Australia). It’s about winning every game, more a matter being as good as you can be. And when the Irish rugby team play to their potential, they’re a difficult bunch to subdue.
Olympics: Yes, yes, yes. I know we’re supposed to be as grateful as a live turkey on St Stephen’s Day that this extravaganza of lycra-clad high-jumping and spear-throwing is coming our way, but I’d settle for the tubes running on time and Ireland getting one gold medal and nobody taking it back later cos of the drugs. Cynical? Me? Yes. Past Olympics have made me this way but this one might change all that. At the start of the year, anything seems possible.