“Now I know all the wrong turns, the stumbles and falls brought me here” – ‘The Luckiest (Ben Folds)
Last week, two entirely unrelated, seismic events occurring within 48 hours of each other were uncannily similar.
One in Ireland, the other, England, both involving ruthlessly combative team sports, and both led by captains sharing intriguingly comparable character traits themselves, the contemporaneous coronations following two key results brought home just how alike the worlds of sport and politics can be.
Each an historic achievement in their own right, the two events dominated the front and back pages of broadsheet and tabloid papers last weekend, with households of each tribe members toasting their victories and reaffirming allegiances.
Reclaiming the most prestigious (and, for both involved, heretofore elusive) domestic honour in their respective disciplines, both teams’ captains have journeyed on the long and winding road. Their reward, a mere metaphorical moment of satisfaction, before returning to their core responsibilities. A weight off their shoulders, yes – but now, the pressure to defend and deliver on their promise.
These are two individuals who have been long criticised, their leadership qualities perennially questioned. Both have faced accusations of being indecisive, of having a tendency to defer to others, of lacking that killer instinct, of being a bit ‘wooden’ in their delivery and of generally being passive on the battlefield…the list goes on and on.
And it is this shroud of doubt – from apathy to antipathy – that has enveloped both men which makes their recent successes all the more striking. And impressive. The quote often attributed to Napoleon about preferring a lucky general to a good general is pertinent here. But so too is one’s definition of ‘lucky’ (there being a ‘deserved, you make your own luck’ lucky and an ‘undeserved, fluky’ lucky). Their common work ethic and consistency of temperament would suggest it’s firmly the former, but it is also true to say that few in sport or politics become champions without experiencing some fortuitous hits and misses along the way). And on that note, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that their fathers worked and played in almost matching environments – one a former policeman and amateur footballer, the other a former soldier in the defence forces and amateur boxer.
The two areas in which the two captains in question bear most resemblance, however, is in their dogged determination and in their deftness for adapting to changing circumstances. Bullish behaviour on any field of play can be effective, but will only get you so far. Rather, it is the ability to read the game – whatever the pursuit – and adjust accordingly that yields the greatest return and which is the most challenging to achieve. Altering one’s position in politics can run the risk of reputational and electoral consequences (particularly in instances when the policy in question is emotive and divisive). Likewise, changing position on the football field can expose both team and player limitations.
But it is precisely that tenacity and positional dexterity, particularly in recent years, that has helped both captains to perform better within themselves, find their groove within a collective rhythm, convincingly bring their colleagues along with them and, in turn, engineer a shared success.
And despite their respective fanbase yearning for this big day for aeons, both occasions last week proved to be strangely anti-climactic affairs, albeit for different reasons (Liverpool’s, a largely foregone conclusion – a case not of if, but when; and Fianna Fáil’s, not when, but if, and certainly dampened further by the political fatigue and restlessness arising from 140 days of tense negotiations to form a government).
It is also true that both celebratory situations were similarly impacted by COVID-19 restrictions, with the deciding moments for each contest happening in unlikely and sparsely-attended arenas – Dublin’s Convention (or, more aptly here, Unconventional) Centre and, without kicking a ball, Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge – and the resulting ‘fanfare’ involving just teammates, without the hordes of faithful supporters typically associated with such occasions.
Two great survivors of many bloody battles, unceremonious personnel culls and more than an undercurrent of turbulence through many periods of their leadership. Two steely characters who, ‘though your dreams be tossed and blown’, have reached their national summits, largely against the odds. Offering, perhaps, less by way of flair and more by way of hard graft, they each had an ambitious goal, a vision of how to achieve it, and succeeded where so many others have failed. Winners, as luck would have it. Micheál Martin and Jordan Henderson – deserving recipients of POTY (Politician/Player of the Year) accolades respectively.
BY: Carl Gibney,
Senior Client Director
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August 13, 2020