THERE is nothing like the onset of a new season to revive the sagging spirits of the Football Man after a long dreary football-less Winter. Be he player, supporter, administrator, manager or general club dogsbody, this is the time when anything is possible.
He’ll have cast an eye over the All-Ireland club series in the last couple of months and thought to himself, ‘Jaysus, if they can get that far … a bit of luck with the championship draw, a few breaks here and there, if X can keep fit for the year and if Y can keep away from temptation, we could get to the knockout stages and, sure, then anything can happen. And once you get out of the county …’
No matter how the previous year unfolded, there is every reason to believe this year will be better (unless you did go all the way to Croker and grabbed the Holy Grail). If relegation was Football Man’s team’s fate, ‘well, at least we can start again and rebuild, there’s a couple of good young fellas coming through’.
If they were promoted, ‘there’s no reason why we can’t win the senior as well, we’re on a roll’. If they just hung on to their status by the skin of their teeth ‘it was a blip, we got off to a bad start and couldn’t turn it around – we won’t make the same mistake this time’. And so on.
Some things will have been done a bit differently in preparation for the year of destiny. Training might have started before Christmas, an outside man brought in to train or manage, maybe a bit of weights, perhaps even some of those plyometrics to get the full-back turning a fraction quicker (as long as he doesn’t get tangled up in the ladder and tie his cruciate in knots). Anything to gain a smidgen of an advantage. You’d never know, the new man might even start teaching the lads how to give a kick-pass which will land somewhere in the general area of its intended target.
As soon as he gets some idea of the fixture list for the year, Football Man starts calculating and planning. The league fixtures will be out first and this will keep him in high-stool speculation and observation until the real draw, for the championship, is made.
‘How come we always get six away games and X, Y and Z always get five? It’s definitely a case of who you know in this county, sure we never get a fair crack of the whip at the County Board’ or ‘why are we always away to Belmullet’ (or Shrule-Glencorrib as the case may be) ‘But he will comfort himself with the thought that they all have to be played and beaten, and if you’re good enough you’ll win anywhere, even on the Sandybanks in a hurricane.
And then, at last, the championship draw is made. Now the really relevant forecasts can be made. ‘ Thanks be to God we got A, B or C at home; sure you couldn’t play football on their pitch. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a model of angular perfection compared to it. So, if we beat them and draw or beat D, E or F we’ll definitely be in a play-off at least for the quarters’.
The Football Man’s mind’s eye can visualise a yellow brick road all the way to McHale Park in October, with a little bit of luck of course (and, please God, avoiding ‘that so-and-so of a ref’ who did them last year).
Slowly the months ahead are taking shape in his head and he begins to plan for the inevitable clashes of important events. ‘ Well, feckit, the Confirmation is on the same day as the first round of the championship. At least it’s a home match so there’s some room for manoeuvre – maybe I can skip the photographs’.
Holidays will also have to be fitted in somewhere, but ‘like I always say, a few days in Killarney, even in the middle of the week, is better than burning to a rashery crisp in Salou’. Everything and anything is possible when one is sufficiently motivated, as any decent sports psychologist will tell you.
Things won’t turn out exactly the way Football Man thought and hoped they would, of course. There’ll be twists and turns, blunders and brilliance, good luck and no luck, arguments and debates all the way to the end, whether it comes in July or October. It’ll test his patience to the nth degree and drive his nearest and dearest demented but, despite all, he’ll still end up with the motto of the eternal optimist on his lips, ‘Sure, there’s always next year (and isn’t your man coming back from Australia)’. And so it will all start again. Where would he, and we, be without it?
Jimmy Lyons from Aghamore is the manager of the Ballinrobe senior football team.