Is rugby making progress?

Last Sunday I was privileged to attend the Ireland New Zealand (All Blacks) rugby international at the Aviva Stadium. Fantastic match, wonderful atmosphere, great standard and Ireland were pipped at the last minute by the World Champions.  One of the best sporting events I have attended – without question. And the occasion showed the Aviva off to its best – and no one could question the ‘atmosphere’ at the stadium – it was ‘electric’.

And there have been several fantastic days with Leinster, Munster and Ulster over the last number of years.

But then this morning I read about Blackrock Rugby Club and its problems.  And these are compared and contrasted with the growth and success of Cuala GAA (and reference to my own Club Kilmacud Crokes).

I think back to my playing rugby in Belvedere College, Trinity College and Old Belvedere.  I played schools rugby and, afterwards, junior rugby with TCD and OBRFC.  Great years – and many matches against Blackrock (not against the stars – Slattery, Duggan, etc., but against fellow junior rugby players, followed by lots of craic afterwards in Stradbrook, the Pav or Anglesea Road). I have fantastic memories of junior club rugby and the friendships formed over many years.  And when I played the guys who played on the first XV (or even at representative level) were just better than me.  But generally we felt part of the same organisation, sport, club.

Now my kids play football, camogie and hurling with Kilmacud Crokes – another set of friendships for them and for me.  Lots of the same type of endeavour – coaching, fundraising, àdmin, etc. I thought rugby was thriving also – with huge numbers playing mini rugby.  But I wonder.

Cuala and Crokes are examples of two clubs bulging at the seams – with massive intake of young boys and girls each year.  They are both looking for new and upgraded facilities.  There is huge demand for mid week, flood-lit training facilities – in order to enable teams to train through late autumn, winter and early spring.  There are only so many slots available between, say, 6.30 and 9.30 – Monday to Friday.  And during the winter all-weather or weather-proof pitches are critical to managing the logistics associated with bad weather.

And the current levels of growth are spurred on by Dublin’s current levels of achievement in Men’s senior football and hurling.  Significant growth in numbers of girls playing football and camogie is also driving demand for facilities – Ladies Football being one of the great success stories of the last 10/15 years.

Rugby has all the required success stories – Ulster, Munster and Leinster.  It has the stars – Brian O’Driscoll being the outstanding one.  It has the tradition of Schools Cup rugby.  Mini rugby and tag rugby have been great successes.  So what’s the problem – or is there one?

Om first examination the Dublin football team removes Club players from the fold in much the same way that Leinster removes players from the Club scene.  In GAA circles postponement of Club Championship matches until the county players return is a constant source of debate/ argument. But there is a difference – the GAA players return, they do not have employment contracts with Dublin and at all times remain part of the club.  Presumably there must be mixed emotions in a rugby club as they lose someone to the professional game – to return when?  Nowadays much of the top talent skips the club scene – joining elite squads from schools rugby or via third level scholarships.

I have no issue with professional sport.  In rugby this is what is producing the excitement (and the standard) of the Heineken Cup etc.  But how to maintain and sustain club rugby? This does not seem to have been resolved.  When Cuala and Kilmacud look to develop new facilities – they will first look to their members and their communities to assist with fundraising – but I have no doubt that the GAA itself will support these initiatives – the GAA recognises that development in the community, at club level, player development (at all levels) is the future of the organisation.  I would expect the IRFU to be in the same position – but I wonder whether it is.  It’s not a question about the merits of paying players. Presumably professional rugby should be capable of generating much greater TV revenues – given international coverage.  But it may be a question of looking to divert greater percentages of the cake to supporting and sustaining the amateur organisation that is club rugby.

If professional rugby is to be fed by the schools then does it need club rugby?  I think this is the nub of the question.  In spite of all the words used the reality is that club rugby is effectively in competition with professional rugby.  The Clubs play a role at mini rugby level and in offering playing opportunities to players not attending rugby playing schools.  But ultimately the professional sides are happy to talent spot and recruit at schools level (or via sponsored contacts at University level).

I have great memories of playing adult sport – rugby, cricket, hockey, golf (ongoing), indoor soccer. Sport is great for kids – for any number of reasons.  But I would be very keen to see more adults continue to play after school.  If rugby or GAA finds itself struggling on this front then this needs to be addressed – we need more people playing (whatever sport they choose) for longer.

Right now I wonder whether rugby is getting it right – in terms of the balance between Schools, Club and professional sides.  As a game it offers so much – it still accommodates people of different physical attributes more effectively than many other sports.

Perhaps ultimately amateur rugby will have to establish itself as a separate organisation – with its own objectives.  We have professional and amateur golf – and it seems to work.  Rugby is a great game – perhaps amateur rugby needs to find itself and reestablish its attractiveness and its own energy.  There may be new opportunities going forward for greater cooperation between clubs and schools – on the basis that schools may only have a limited appetite for sending their pupils into professional sport.

I am delighted to see Cuala, our local GAA rivals, expanding and developing their facilities.  I would also like to see Blackrock expanding and thriving (although obviously less so than Old Belvedere, given my own allegiances!).  And more facilities for all other sports – basketball, soccess, hockey, whatever.  For amateur rugby, I hope it finds a way forward quickly.  It may have to do this with less support than anticipated from the professional game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Germany let down by US friends

Excellent piece (Charlemange) in last week’s Economist ‘Falling Out of Love’ – gives a sense of the disappointment/ disenchantment in Germany as a result of learning that Mrs Merkel’s mobile was tapped from 2002 until this summer.

In many such activities the maxim is ‘don’t get caught’.  But in this case Mr Snowden has ‘spilt the beans’ and of course it impacts relationships between US and Germany.

It is quite understandable that there would be sympathy in Germany for granting asylum to Mr Snowden – when his sojourn in Russia comes to an end.  Without his disclosure would the tapping have continued indefinitely?

Suppose it really comes down to a superpower deciding whether it is in its best interests to spy on leaders of ally countries.  Obviously in this case the view in the US was that it was best served by conducting such phone tapping.  And I suppose one has to put it in the context of ‘war on terror’ and a general feeling after 911 that the US lacked useful intelligence.  This is not to excuse the bahaviour – but somehow to try and understand or rationalise the thinking.

I think what Charlemange does very well is to explain the impact in Germany – on the German psyche. And it certainly plays into the hands of all those who focus on the ‘ugly American’ image.  It must also remind Mrs Merkel, formerly of East Germany, of some of what she thought was left behind when the Wall came down.

Hopefully fences will be mended and friendships rebuilt.  Pretty clear what the US would like to do if they get their hands on Mr Snowden – and I don’t think the Germans would be much different in their attitude to someone disclosing their secrets.  However would be very interesting to watch this play out were Germany to contemplate some form of political asylum for Mr Snowden.

 

 

 

Why do teams win? What do we learn from winning teams?

Just attended 6 Gaelic Football and Hurling finals over the last 10 days or so. Five of the teams I supported were successful – so an unusually high success rate! And of course we are often told we learn more from the games we lose (and mistakes we make) than from winning games. But I was thinking – what did we learn from winning these games?

Firstly – winning beats losing. There is no ‘could have, should have, would have’ chat after the game. And, in general, the things that went wrong are put to one side and the focus tends to be on what went right.

Why did five of these teams win?

The first team was well coached, had set achievable targets for itself early in the season, had sorted out its defence and had realistic expectations of its own players (and their abilities). The coaches were meticulous in their preparation – including their analysis of strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. On the day the team made a fast start and played with hunger and determination throughout the match.

The second team to win consisted of a teams of winners. They had lots of ability and had been undefeated in Championship matches for a number of  years. The opposition played well but may have lacked some vital element of self belief. The opposition started well and had opportunities to establish a decent lead – but squandered these.  The winning team started poorly but never appeared to doubt their own ability to close out the deal. And they did so comprehensively in the end.

The third team won by one point in extra time. They played a good game – against another team of approx. equal ability and drive/ hunger. Match came down to a couple of missed opportunities for one team and a couple of opportunities taken by the other team. Would not be difficult to summarise by saying ‘they got the breaks’.

The fourth team won because they had more ability, more experience and generally shut out the up and coming opposition. Their pre-match preparation was good and after a slow start for 5-10 minutes they gradually assumed control in the match.  As the match progressed they began to exploit some weaknesses in the opposition team.

The fifth team was too strong for the opposition and won out easily.  They were faster, stronger, more skillful and, in particular, had more consistently good players across the park that the opposition.  

The sixth team lost.  This team was probably expected to win – just about.  They led well at half time.  Something happened after half time – a real momentum swing.  They seemed to lose their way for 15 minutes of the second half.  Over the game they conceded three goals – and, as many say, goals win matches.  The winning team exploited the momentum swing and just about held out in the end.

So what did I learn from watching six finals?

  • Winning and losing teams learned lots about themselves and the opposition in each game
  • Individual ability of team members makes huge difference
  • Attitude is very important
  • Experience is an asset
  • Good preparation (ambition/ focus, training, tactics, knowledge of the opposition) can make a major difference
  • Luck makes a difference in tight matches
  • Understanding limitations of your own team is important in setting out to win a match
  • Winning teams believe in themselves and their ability to win – even when faced by adversity
  • In many matches the top players on either side neutralise each other – the battle often gets decided by the weaker players – the team with the stronger weaker players usually exploits this advantage to win
  • Beware of momentum swings – over the 6 games there were plenty of changes in momentum – when teams trailing were afforded the opportunity to change things around.  The challenge having survived to the momentum swing opportunity is to take it and kick on.  Really only saw this happen in the sixth final.

Interestingly no real reference to individual leadership, per se, in these match wins.  Yes – good players were required to perform – but impact of individual leadership not as great as people may expect.

Certainly analysis is applicable to lots of work and life situations – why do teams succeed/ fail? Perhaps the importance of strong weaker players is overlooked in many situations – as also is having realistic expectations of the team. Other factors such as preparation and common goals/ sense of purpose were as expected.