Kieran McGeeney: History is written by the victor
“History is written by the victor”
As Sunday approaches and the column inches get filled, we hear more and more theories and stories about what each team is doing and why one will prevail over the other. At the same time, everybody is in fact hedging their bets (me included, as you will read later) just in case people ever find out that nasty secret about most experts. That is, they really are no better at predicting the future than anybody else a lot of the time (‘The Signal and the Noise’ by Nate Silver is worth reading if this topic interests you). And once Sunday is over we will be led to believe that what the victor did was all right and what the loser did was all wrong. It brings me back to 2005, to what was in fact one of Armagh’s more successful years but where eventually everybody told us we were doing everything wrong.
So Armagh had one of its best years which included a National League
title, an Ulster title, and an All-Ireland semi-final which we only
lost by one point — not a bad run you would think. However not
everyone saw it that way, and in fact we were told in the days
following our loss that everything we were doing was all wrong, and
everything Tyrone was doing was all right! It definitely made you
wonder. Surely not everything we were doing could be that far wrong
and not everything they were doing was that perfect? So what is the
real truth behind defeat and victory?
The truth is there is no simple answer. There is no one singular component or aspect of the game responsible for either. Within each game played there are so many permutations that could happen at any one point, it is difficult to pinpoint where exactly it was won or lost. If it was just one thing surely would Mayo (to name but one) not have discovered this before now and written a different history for themselves in their quest for the Holy Grail?
Tactics, gameplans and the ability to deal with the ‘what ifs’ have
been drawn up for this weekend and practiced over the year. However,
how players react to any given situation or adversity is always hard
to predict. These “tactics” act as an outline to how the game should
be played but how this outline is filled in lies with the ability of
the player to adapt to that particular situation. So surely each team
and each set of players must be doing a lot of things right to get so
far in the competition and play amongst the top teams in the country.
So when you look across both teams and look at the common
denominators, you get your starting point for what can lead to
So what common denominators do we have for Sunday’s game between Dublin and Mayo? We can see both teams have the basics you need to get to the table in a high-movement contact sport. They are both physically strong, very fit, and very aggressive in how they play and how they impose their game on their opponents. They both feel equally adept at the kicking game as they do the running game, so both can adapt to whatever style is thrown at them or whatever style must be incorporated to break down their opponents.
They have proven match-winners in Diarmuid Connolly, Bernard Brogan and Kevin McManamon for Dublin, while Aidan O’Shea, Andy Moran and Cillian O’Connor can do likewise for Mayo. They also have great defenders like Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle and Keith Higgins on one side and James McCarthy, Jonny Cooper and Philly McMahon on the other. In the middle, they both have great endurance players in Seamus O’Shea and Donal Vaughan against Michael Darragh Macauley and Brian Fenton.
Although Dublin’s year has been one of consistency and great results
and the story that everything that they are doing is right, Mayo’s has
been somewhat different. The players took a huge chance in looking for
a change of management and in fairness to all involved (especially the
outgoing management), everybody put the good of the county first, bit
their tongues and moved in the one direction. A couple of bad results
in the league and the stories started that everything the new
management was doing wasn’t right but then that changed with better
results at the end of the league. That changed again when Galway beat
them and was revised once more after the Tyrone game. Now they find
themselves back against a team that they traditionally do very well
against, even in recent times.
So what will the story be after Sunday? Who will write their story in the history books? A Dublin team aiming to become the county’s best ever or a Mayo side breaking that glass ceiling they’ve been under for65 years. All in all, you have what looks like a cracker in store for Sunday. The feeling out there is that Mayo stand little or no chance against the juggernaut of the Boys in Blue but, like the last time we discussed this, all is not what it appears to be. So what do the numbers tell us this time (and thanks again to Brian from BMAC for these stats)?
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