Sunday 19 November 2017

Using siege mentality is a weapon of mass destruction which could backfire massively

Dublin boss Jim Gavin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Dublin boss Jim Gavin. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

As we speak, the Dublin footballers are hunkering down in a newly excavated bunker at the back of Parnell Park.

They are manning the barricades. They have officially moved to Defcon 1 in their battle with the broadcasting beasts of Montrose and their cousins across the pond in Planet Murdoch.

This is what a siege mentality looks like. Steady on … whoever mentioned siege?

Myriad interpretations have already been put on the decision of Jim Gavin and his players, in Croke Park last Sunday, not to conduct one-on-one interviews with the broadcast media.

Curve Ball comes into frequent contact with the Dublin manager, who is ever-ready with a handshake and a friendly salutation. We're even on first name terms: "How are you today, Curve?"

But it's all strictly professional; protocols of engagement allow for no dropping of the guard. We can't claim to know the inner Jim because he's not the type of guy who bears his soul, especially to a member of the Fourth Estate. Why would he?

Various pundits have inferred that last Sunday's rare event (a newsworthy bordering on incendiary Jim Gavin press conference) was a deliberate attempt to foster a them-and-us siege mentality. We can see merit in this view but aren't fully convinced.

Maybe Gavin was venting a very real and emotional response to the media's coverage of the Diarmuid Connolly saga, more specifically how Sky Sports and The Sunday Game covered the incident.

Or maybe he was using this as a pretext to give his medal-laden troops a cause celebre, a reason to go to the All-Ireland well once more.

Here's another theory: don't discount that it's both of the above.

Oisín McConville is in no doubt. "I think this is definitely predetermined from a Dublin point of view. They're going to use this, they're going to run with it," the Armagh All-Ireland winner told 2fm's Game On last Monday evening.

"They were accused of being a bit flat. Could you see a flat Dublin yesterday? No, because they have something to prove," he expanded. "Because if Dublin are going to do three-in-a-row ... they needed something a little bit extra."

The only trouble with such "us against the world" motivations is that they don't always work. You can expend a lot of negative energy.

Former Dublin manager Paul Caffrey touched on this very subject in his Irish Mirror column, writing: "I don't believe the team needs this.

There is no history of siege mentalities working in Dublin and there is a danger, like the Tony Keady affair with Galway hurlers in 1989 or the Colin Lynch fall-out in Clare in 1998, that the team will get sidetracked by it."

Ah yes, who dares to speak of '98?

Memories of that madcap summer are permanently etched in the brain. Suffice to say, the Connolly saga is only in the ha'penny place compared to all the craziness that mushroomed out of the Munster Council's decision to bring a case against Clare midfielder Lynch.

Then again, that's probably because Ger Loughnane isn't the current Dublin football boss. Can you imagine?

Still, there are some linguistic similarities: where the then-Clare hurling manager fulminated about an "abuse of human rights", Gavin has cited the Constitution to argue that freedom of expression is not an absolute.

But here's the thing: there has never been a GAA siege mentality like the one fostered by Loughnane 19 years ago. Did it work? Ultimately, no. But was that because his players got distracted or because of bad karma or because Jimmy Cooney blew his darned whistle too early?

"1998 was a never-to-be-forgotten year. I wouldn't swap it for anything.

"It was the experience of a lifetime," said Loughnane in his 2001 biography, Raising The Banner.

Yet Jamesie O'Connor, such a key member of Loughnane's crew, offered a different take a few years later. He felt the players didn't get "a fair crack of the whip" in the media but he also reckoned they "suffered from some stuff that Ger did", alluding to his instantly notorious local radio interview on Clare FM.

"The whole year was a bit of a circus," O'Connor told Denis Walsh in his book, Hurling - The Revolution Years. "I remember at the end of it thinking that it was nice to go back to leading a semi-normal life."

A certain Dublin footballer might empathise.

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