Westside Column 23 April 2021

Nearing the end of the great Scottish play, Macbeth soliloquises some famous lines. His ambition has brought him to a very dark place and as the world closes in he feels the utter futility of it all. Life has become “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

It’s as apt a description for some elements of social media as you’re liable to get. The IT world that pervades our lives has brought many favours – but faults as well. Scroll through the platform of your choice and you’ll encounter a lot of sound and fury, most of it signifying nothing – or at least nothing of merit. Sifting the nuggets of corn from the nastier chaff is always the trick.

And yet it would be unfair to let the negatives outdo the positives because, overall, the internet has been a phenomenal development, one that has transformed our lives in so many productive ways. Can you imagine how much more unbearable this pandemic would have been without the internet and all its associated features?

For the GAA it has been a major boon. Most teams nowadays have their own WhatsApp group which is a godsend for management who can freely (literally) communicate both collectively and individually with the players. A tight, well-run WhatsApp group is now an essential tool of team management.

When the lockdown began to bite last year the GAA suddenly discovered the value of streaming. People couldn’t get to games, so you brought the games to the people. In some instances, it provided a revenue source but, more importantly, it tapped into a huge audience. Its promotional value shouldn’t be underestimated even when this pandemic eventually ends.

Other features also took on added importance. Skype and Zoom have become familiar terms as meetings of all types go online. The GAA had to find new ways of doing business and in truth it has adapted well.

One aspect of the online world that has seen a major explosion is the podcast. In a very short time, it seems, podcasts have become six-a-penny. Everyone and anyone is now podcasting but, inevitably, the quality varies widely.

I’m a traditionalist so the hardcopy, be it book or newspaper, is still king. Nonetheless I find myself drifting more and more towards podcasts of all types. Away from the GAA world my favourite is probably still Eamon Dunphy’s ‘The Stand’.

Love him or loath him – I’m somewhere in between – Dunphy does a great job here. His material is well researched and he has quality guests for each episode ranging from Niall Stanage on US affairs, Nicola Tallant on crime, Tomas Ryan on the pandemic, Maomi O’Leary on the EU, Johnny Giles on soccer, Chris Johns on British affairs and many more.

If you want accurate, well-informed discussion on Irish and world affairs then you’ll find it difficult to better The Stand.

All of which leads on neatly to a GAA podcast I’d like to recommend this week. The Premierview podcast has been going for some time now but it’s latest offering is definitely its best.

Damien Young, ex-Drom and Tipperary hurler, has established a major reputation in the area of performance analysis and his interview here with Michael McCarthy offers a fascinating insight into this modern aspect of our games.

The casual observer of games is probably only vaguely aware of this facet of modern sport. He’ll have noted the presence of stats people on backroom teams and when players doff their jerseys he’ll have seen these black GPS devices. Other than that, it’s probably a world of mystery to most.

This podcast will change all that.

As a player Damien Young was well known. His long career with Drom/Inch (twenty-two years) mirrored the club’s emergence as a major force in Tipperary hurling, winning county titles in every grade from U12 to senior. With Tipperary he spent three years at minor, four at U21 and then three on the senior panel. Narrowly losing the minor final of 1999 to Galway, when he was captain, ranks as his greatest regret.

In the academic world he’s climbed the ladder very successfully too. He’s now officially Dr Damien Young having completed his doctorate on the topic of the aforementioned GPS. He lectures in LIT and has been involved with Tipperary teams for a number of years.

As I write this, I’m looking at an ‘Irish Independent’ heading from last year, which reads, “A bad hurling match has more going on than a good soccer match’. The quote comes from Lukasz Kirszenstein, the former Tipperary and now Galway S & C coach. In another  interview Lukasz referred to the chaos of hurling matches.

Fascinatingly Damien Young also refers to hurling as a game of chaos. How refreshing that is when compared to the TV punditry we’ve become accustomed to over recent years. The pundits replace chaos with chess, reducing hurling to a board game of pre-planned moves and strategies.

A player, by accident, finds himself loose and the TV folk immediately produce their graphics and rave about the great tactic by the management. There usually is no tactic, it’s merely the fall-out from this game of chaos. There’s so much instinct and spontaneity in the sport. Split-second decision making by the players is essential. Nicky English, as manager, always claimed that when the players crossed the white line, he lost control.

Anyway, Damien Young offers a detailed account of the workings of the performance analyst. In the past everything was based on opinion, now it’s all defined by statistics. It’s bringing scientific rigour to field sports like hurling and football, which will then inform the work of the management.

Everything about the game is broken down into figures and facts. However, as Damien points out, these stats don’t stand alone, they require background and context. In the 2010 All Ireland, for example, Lar Corbett, the hero of the day, had only 5 possessions in the entire game, but from those he scored 3 goals. After about ten minutes into the second half, he still had only one possession to his credit. Take him off, surely! Indeed.

I won’t act as spoiler because there’s much, much more to enjoy in this podcast. Damien deals with a whole range of issues from developing fundamental movement skills to the role of development squads and some very interesting comments on the dual player debate.

In all of this the role of Michael McCarthy must be acknowledged too. He brings his own knowledge to the interview and asks the right questions. If there’s a slight quibble it’s that the podcast is too long, stretching to an hour and fifty minutes. That reservation aside it’s one well worth accessing.

On this general area of performance analysis, one should also mention former ‘Tipperary Star’ journalist, Brian McDonnell, who has produced some excellent work as well as directing people to some of the best literature on the topic. Following his twitter feed can be well worth the effort.

I also like the contributions of journalist Christy O’Connor who incorporates much statistical work into his various pieces. It’s a developing area in the GAA world and one that will have an increasing influence in the future.

In the meantime, the die has been cast for the forthcoming Munster championships, so that Liam Sheedy and David Power now know what awaits them in the months ahead.

Sheedy, I suspect, will be reasonably happy with the lottery getting a bye to the semi-final where we’ll face either Clare or Waterford. On last year’s form it would be Waterford but you never know. Internal strife is doing Clare no favours at the moment. Avoiding Limerick too early was probably a relief.

For the footballers it’s a tougher call against Kerry or Clare – presumably Kerry, if one may be presumptuous.

Finally, a follow up to last week’s piece. An email arrived by a somewhat circuitous route from a Los Angeles based granduncle of Orla O’Dwyer. Who said ‘The Nationalist’ isn’t global! Through whatever forum he’d read the piece and was complimentary – as well as giving a little hint of a few more achievements by Orla’s ancestors.

So here goes. Neil O’Dwyer won West Tipp senior medals as full back for Kickhams in 1959 and 1960 as did his brother Jack back in 1950. I still miss Jack since he passed away because he was a regular caller and remained a staunch Kickhams man to the end despite his Clonoulty exile. Incidentally he hated that term Croker which carried echoes of a disreputable character from the past. He considered it a defilement of the Croke Park shrine.

Since that Los Angeles email, of course, Orla has finished the deed down under becoming only the second Irish woman to win a Grand Final. It’s an astonishing achievement and one I’m sure the O’Dwyers – and indeed Quinlans – will long celebrate.

There was no such luck for Dorothy Wall in the rugby. After last weeks’ piece appeared, a friend reminded me that Dorothy’s dad, Anthony, had strong GAA credentials, which I was unaware of at the time. He was part of the 1990 U21 hurling final loss to Kilkenny. He was involved with various Tipperary hurling and football teams between 1988 and 1997 – a true dual player. It’s something that wasn’t generally publicised until Dorothy corrected the record in an interview at the weekend. She obviously inherits here athleticism from both sides and looks set for a long career in the green jersey.


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