The winner doesn’t take
it all


GIVEN that it’s barely a week since Munster won the Heineken Cup, nobody will be surprised if we cast an eye back to last Saturday in Cardiff.

A few people have commented since last weekend on the fact that a couple of Toulouse players stalked off the playing field at the final whistle without shaking hands with their opponents. It was an unusual breach of discipline, given the strong rugby tradition of applauding the opposition after the game.

Their behaviour was brought into sharp relief by Donncha O’Callaghan of Munster, who hared after Fabien Pelous to commiserate after the match. You could say it’s easy to do the right thing when you’re in the winners’ enclosure, though it’s probably fairer to point out that the experience of losing at the same stage of the competition strengthens your empathy for the defeated. Munster were winners last Saturday but they could call on bitter experience of the silver medal spot on the podium.

Hurrying off the field the way some Toulouse players did is inappropriate, and you could maybe call it unsporting in a wider context. But it shows the pain of losing — unless
defeat tastes sour then victory can’t be all that sweet. The desolation of
losing a big game can be a scouring experience that reduces competitors to utter emptiness.

That applies across the board. The fine GAA programme ‘Breaking Ball’ ran a segment for several years which took players back to events in which they’d been hero or villain.

One Galway hurling goalkeeper, invited to reconsider a crucial goal he’d conceded in an All-Ireland hurling final back in the 70s, admitted that there hadn’t been a day in his life since the game that he hadn’t thought of his error.

Over 20 years before that heartbreaker, during a baseball play-off game between the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, Ralph Branca of Brooklyn pitched the ball that was driven out for the game-winning home run. Branca was so distraught after the game that a priest was called to the dressing-room to console him. The cleric told him he had been dealt that blow because God knew he could handle it.

Sportspeople lose more often than they win.

Defeat, particularly in crucial encounters, is a far more common occurrence than victory, otherwise participants in all codes would be half-crippled with a back-breaking sack of medals. (We make an exception here of one sport — any professional boxer with more losses than wins would be well advised to review their career options).

Yet there’s little enough interest taken in the mindset of those who lose, and how defeat can impact on people. Your column recently picked up Gay Talese’s biography — Talese was a pioneer of the New Journalism back in the 60s, when he wrote lengthy pieces about figures as diverse as Frank Sinatra and Peter O’Toole — and sportspeople like Joe DiMaggio and one boxer in particular.

Talese wrote over 30 newspaper and magazine articles about heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson because he was keenly interested in the fact that the boxer often lost.

“I’m not at all concerned with the mythology of fame and success,” Talese said at one stage, “But with the real ‘soul’ of success and the bitterness of attaining [it] and the heartbreak of not attaining it . . .

“Sports is about people who lose and lose and lose. They lose games; then they lose their jobs. It can be very intriguing.”

Talese’s comments remind everyone that there is something far beyond eye-rollingly glib platitudes about victory, moronic comments such as winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.

One of the many authors claimed for that particular cliche is American football coach Vince Lombardi, yet even Lombardi’s iron command of his players — one of them said if the coach told players to sit, they didn’t check behind for a chair — allowed for nuance.

“If you can’t accept losing,” said Lombardi, “You can’t win.”

Something for everyone to remember. Including Toulouse players, maybe.


Face of the GAA piece

May 28, 2008

AT A GUESS, the woman was in her 50s. It was hard to be more exact, not because of the lighting, or a cannily posed scarf, or any plastic surgery, but because her face was obscured by her own hand.

The pose is a familiar one to any Irishman. One of her arms was folded across her stomach and supporting the other arm: the heel of her hand was under her chin with knuckles out, fingertips on the lower lip. Half-hidden as it was, the expression was plainly that of concern writ large.

She was pressed back against dark concrete as young men streamed past in single file, all of them in matching polo shirts, all of them carrying a couple of hurleys each, all of them tilted slightly as they walked, compensating for the large gear bags on each shoulder. Their faces weren’t visible. They didn’t need to be. The woman was picking out each of them as they passed, eyes flickering in recognition as each stepped through into the darkness.

On the other side of the line of players were a couple of grey-haired men in shirt sleeves, one of them putting a hand on the shoulders of the young men as they passed into the gloom beyond.

He didn’t pat them, or slap them heartily, or squeeze their shoulders for encouragement. He just put his hand on each arm in turn as they walked along, shouldering their bags.

It looked like Thurles, the cavern under the stand that leads down past a metal barrier to the great blue doors that mark the entrance to the dressing-rooms.

I can’t be sure, though the presence of hurlers narrows it down somewhat. That’s because the woman, and the players, and the two older gents, appeared on an RTÉ advertisement for its GAA coverage some years ago.

There were other shots in the same ad: a sliotar hopping along grass, players blurring past the camera in that super-rich colour scheme, faces visible in the stylish slow-motion. But the woman’s expression stayed with me, because it sums up something about the GAA. There’s a disconnect between claiming a team as your own and shouting them on, and shouting down those who shout for someone else — and that kind of deference when face to face with the same players.

Teased out, the status of an inter-county player, worshipped and defended, is that of a man whose every step and glance for one brief hour become the stuff of legend. For decades afterwards his mistakes and achievements on a sunny afternoon in Hyde Park, or Clones, or Fitzgerald Stadium or Páirc Uí Chaoimh, are discussed and analysed. Poems and songs are written. Nicknames are awarded. He becomes part of a region’s sense of itself, a retort, a trump in arguments. He enters into the mythology.

And yet how can a mythical figure be close enough to touch? How can a hero be someone you meet on the streets of a little town, or queue behind in a bank? How can your hero be someone who lets you pull out of a garage forecourt ahead of him? Then again, how can your hero be anything else?

Existential stuff. We’ll leave that to the Pernod-and-Gauloises crowd.

In another way, the woman’s demeanour — worried, plainly — also conveys what it means to give yourself over to a GAA team for the summer. It is a commitment which is nerve-jangling and stomach-upsetting. It induces dread and unease, a desperate, gnawing fear when the star forward of the opposing team rounds one of your defenders and bears down with exact, inevitable grace on your side’s goal.

You’re assailed by rumours of discord even before you take your seat, and each little omen — the first score, the first tackle won, the first sideline — presages doom. All the sophistication of the 21st century disappears with the last echo of the anthem. Supporting your team reduces you to prayer when a high ball drops near your goal, and the vast empty steppes around the tussling pair are inviting for ravening attackers. Why is the defender under that dropping ball always smaller than the forward? The woman sums up something about the GAA experience because she defines a truth which few enough are willing to concede: following your county is torture. If you want enjoyment, try apple tart and cream. Her expression has stayed with me because it’s true. If wouldn’t matter if she were in frowzy ’40s tweeds or a ’60s mini-skirt, a suffragette’s bonnet or a replica jersey. That look of awe and respect and concern make her the eternal face of the GAA.

Shooting from
the lip


Obesity, ill discipline and the state of Kerry football. Just the headline acts in a two-hour chat with Pat Spillane. Michael Moynihan
did the listening

AS interview subjects go, Pat Spillane isn’t a challenge. Some candidates you have to pry and poke, some you have to cajole, but not the former Kerry star. A
casual opener about the league final leads ultimately to modern full-back play, and there aren’t too many degrees of separation.

“I thought the league final was a reality check for Kerry,” says Spillane. “I didn’t expect them to get to a league final, but once you get there you don’t turn your back on it. But they were so unfit — they looked six or seven weeks behind in terms of fitness. And there was an 11-point turnaround in 50 minutes. Kerry teams don’t normally do that.

“That’s taken a slight bit of pressure off them, but it means the foreign training camp is all hard work. I know they’ve a long break to the championship, but I still expected them to be further along.”

Having already offered more opinion than a flock of current intercounty players, Spillane skewers a couple of misconceptions as we continue.

“There have been a couple of myths going around recently in Gaelic football. One was that Tyrone had a conveyor belt of
talent and were so well organised that they’d be at the top forever. The same myth applies to Kerry, that there are so many top class players coming through they’ll be there forever.

“But Tyrone found out when a couple of marquee players aren’t around — Canavan, Dooher, O’Neill — there were no players to take their place. Kerry have had a conveyor belt of a lot of good players coming through, but top-class players who are ready for championship? They’re not as plentiful as we were led to believe. What disguised that for Kerry in the league is that they had the championship defence out — that camouflaged the problems, which was mainly that Kerry don’t have too many top-class championship forwards in reserve.

“The biggest reason Kerry lost to Derry was the absence of Paul Galvin. He performs a role that isn’t glamorous — he’s not going to be highest scorer, or the conductor of the attack, or involved in all the sweeping moves, but he’s the man for second-phase possession, for the breakdown if he was playing rugby. Getting down and dirty and winning breaks, getting a hand in — that’s his job, but Derry won all of those balls in the league final. Every team needs a player like that.

“Kerry don’t have a natural full-back: Marc Ó Sé is the Red Adair of the
defence, he has to put out every fire, and he struggled with Paddy Bradley — though in fairness to him, I’d have Bradley in my top three footballers in the country. Number three, probably.”

Mentioning top full-forwards leads inevitably to the lack of top full-backs. He’s off again.

“The trouble with full-backs is that the stereotypical six-three, John O’Keeffe or Darren Fay-type commanding the square doesn’t exist any more. That’s because the typical game now has half-forwards playing deep or a two-man full-forward line, which means the amount of high ball into the square — apart from Kerry and Donaghy — is negligible. It’s low, fast ball, so you need a mobile full-back.”

Marc Ó Sé rather than Darragh Ó Sé? “Exactly. Your mobile guy at 5-10 is more valuable than a 6-4 guy who’s relatively immobile, the way the game is played nowadays.

“Tactics have come into Gaelic football compared to years ago — I’ve said to Tony Hanahoe he must have been the only man to win an All Star by running to the sideline! But he was probably the first, trying to take Tim Kennelly out of the centre.

“Against Derry, Kerry were tactically naïve – they played Eoin Brosnan as a sweeper and brought the half-forward line back. But you can’t defend a lead in Gaelic football — we know well, we lost the five-in-a-row because of it. You’re inviting the opposition on to you, and that can work sometimes against a running team, you can stop them 40 yards from goal, but if the opposition can kick the ball over the bar from 40, 50 yards, then you’re in trouble. That’s what Derry did in the league final, they were able to kick long-range points.”

As a man who kicked his fair share of long-range points, it’s no surprise to hear him bemoan the decline of kicking as a skill.

“We hear ‘it’s all ballwork’ at intercounty training sessions, and teams have gone away from laps and hill-running, but if you go to one of those sessions you’ll see that drills from other sports, usually basketball, are being used. That means handpassing. You can have on
average 150 hand-passes per game as a
result, because that’s how the teams are being trained.

“That’s why the Australians found us out in the Compromise Rules. We’re just athletes who pass the ball, and the one strong point was our long, accurate kicking; when we didn’t do that we came up against stronger, fitter athletes who beat us.

“Players don’t know how to tackle in Gaelic football. I remember when Donal O’Grady coached Cork he went back to holding hurleys, hooking and blocking. The basics. Our players don’t get good coaching. If a golfer misses a putt he goes to the green and practices for two hours; if Ronan O’Gara misses a kick he’ll take kicks for a couple of hours at training. If a Gaelic football team loses a game by kicking 14 wides, they’ll do laps of the field at their next training session.

“So much is programmed in training now that when a game loosens up — and becomes unprogrammed — players can’t handle it.”

Spillane wouldn’t be averse to reducing the number of players per side, and opening up space on the field (“It’s a point, bringing it down to 14 or 13), but sports psychologists and statisticians leave him cold.

“I don’t go overboard with psychologists and statisticians. If you need them to get the 1% to get over the line, fine, but you’ll notice that when a team wins an All-Ireland the psychologist is lauded. But the team they beat in the final probably had a psychologist as well. What about him? A great manager doesn’t need to be told the stats. He’ll recognise that midfield isn’t being won, or that a corner-back is in trouble. My favourite story about statisticians is the time three of them were out shooting. A duck flew up and one shot and missed him by three feet on the left. Another statistician shot and missed by three feet on the right. ‘I’m not going to shoot at all,” said the third, “Statistically speaking that duck is dead’.”

BROADENING the debate broadens the focus. Parnellgate is still fresh in the memory, and Spillane takes the specific incident to illustrate a wider truth about the GAA.

“Too many of the Dubs play with a scowl on the face, and that in-your-face aggression comes from the top down, from management. The incident involving Dublin and Meath was fairly low on the Richter scale, but it was the week after Nickey Brennan made a big statement about discipline. If you had sense you’d know not to make trouble, because the next teams that stepped out of line were going to get punished . . .

“The shortest fully constructed sentence in English is ‘I’m sorry’. But they’re the most difficult words for GAA people to produce. The two managers shouldn’t have been joking about Arsene Wenger and ‘I didn’t see it’, they should have apologised, the two county boards the same –— but no.


“In fairness, you wouldn’t get that in the championship. But take the Cork-Clare thing last year, it was trivial, and the suspensions were completely over the top. When you see one of the greatest sportsmen in the GAA, Sean Óg Ó hAilpin, getting a massive suspension, you know something is wrong with the system. Sleeveenism is alive and well in the GAA, and unfortunately more so at official level than player level. The rulebook needs to be rewritten, and to be made simpler.

“But that comes back to a wider issue in Irish society. There’s no respect for elders, for teachers, for gardaí — in the GAA there’s no respect for referees, and there’s no excuse for the abuse they get from players, managers and supporters.”

On those wider issues Spillane is downbeat, and with good reason.

“I see a society I don’t like now. It’s a disaster. I’m a PE teacher and 30% of my first years have never played sport — and that’s in rural west Cork. They’ve come through primary systems where they’ve never had sports facilities, and now they’re playing their Wii, Xbox, etc. By the time they get to 16 they’ve given up on those for drugs, drink and anti-social behaviour.

“We’re heading into a disaster zone. We have a society which is overweight, unfit and uninterested in sport, and now the Celtic Tiger is coming to an end what have we been left with? The GAA has been part of that. It’s had a magnificent run, but the golden era is over for the GAA. We’re not dealing with the major problems. Our flagship competitions aren’t as good as we want them to be. Football is mediocre, while hurling is confined to six or seven teams.”

It’s not all complaints. Spillane appeals for GAA players to be used properly in marketing (“A transition year class would come up with better marketing for the GAA”), for county panels to get a slice of the gate to spend as they want, and for a career structure to appeal to young GAA players, but the frustration is still close to the surface.

“Urban-focused legislation is ruining rural Ireland and country GAA clubs are struggling, while at the same time the Association hasn’t dealt with urbanisation. The big towns and cities aren’t being catered for. We had a gravy train and milked it to the last, but I don’t think the GAA is spending its money the right way — on coaching in primary schools. In 30 years as a post-primary teacher I’ve never been offered any coaching help, but if I rang the IRFU tomorrow I’d have a coach at the school the next morning.

“There were less than 16,000 people at the four league finals this year. That’s frightening, and no-one is saying ‘this is serious’. People are saying the championship is coming around, but what’s camouflaged things for the last couple of years is the Dubs. The GAA has been lucky that the media has hyped up the games and done its work for it; the GAA only had to collect the money. But if they don’t get the same exposure for some reason . . .

“The warning bells are ringing, and they’re ringing loudly.”

Who’s listening?



Close season, what close season?
Donal Óg Cusack spent last winter negotiating for the GPA and rallying Cork footballers and hurlers to the barricades in their stand-off with the county board.
He tells Michael Moynihan why he’s happy to be back between posts

As a solid rock is not shaken by the wind, so the wise are not shaken by blame and praise.

— The Buddha

INJURIES. The state of the game. United-Chelsea in the Champions League final. A new jersey style, the latest gossip on players moving jobs, or moving counties. That’s your bog-standard warming-up chat with an intercounty player.

A conversation with Donal Óg Cusack — GPA chairman, lightning rod for the Cork hurlers strike — comes with a preface. The Cork goalkeeper knows how he’s regarded. “I don’t think there’s anything I could say on a lot of topics but some people will say I’m pushing a GPA agenda. Having said that, I haven’t let that get in my way because I’m in the GPA, and I have a responsibility to players, and I have to appreciate that hat when I wear it. So I have to be conscious of it.”

The Cork players’ strike ended on a Friday. Cusack and some of the other players were in Old Trafford on Saturday and were back training with Cork on the Sunday.

“That Sunday fellas were happy to get back out there. The one thing is there’s a core of lads there who know how to deal with it, and who know that when you come back you have to refocus.

“Right now I just want to be playing hurling, and to put that other stuff away. That’s history now, it’s gone, and we have enough to be worrying about. My focus is on Cloyne in the club championship and the Tipp game for Cork. I’ve enough to think about playing in goal, particularly with two other goalkeepers on the panel who are well able for intercounty hurling.

“Will I do anything for John Gardiner to help him as captain? Absolutely. I’m delighted to do it, and in a lot of ways I’d do more for him as captain than I would for myself, and I’ve done the same for other captains.”

Everything that begins also ends. Make peace with that and all will be well.

-The Buddha

They started as star minors, Cusack and Joe Deane, Sean Óg Ó hAilpin, Timmy McCarthy, but that was 1995, a long time ago. Now the finishing tape is in sight, and they know it.

“Elite sport is ruthless, but among us there’s a very strong bond,” says Cusack. “I can speak best for myself, and those guys are my brothers. Absolutely. We’ve spent a lot of our adult lives together, training and playing for Cork. There’s a loyalty to each other that will go on a long time after we finish.

“Within the group I’d say there is an acknowledgement that the end is coming. I’d find it hard to see all our guys back again, and when I say that, people know the players I mean.”

Cusack spent much of last winter with one of the senior players, persuading him to give it another season. He succeeded, but it made the endgame even more of a reality.

“Does that have an effect? Of course. You wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t have feelings, and you realise, ‘yeah, this thing is going to be wrapped up; it’s going to finish’. The important thing for us, though, is to stick to what we believe in while we’re here.”

Hanging up the jersey is a separation, though, not a divorce. During the strike, one of the most striking messages Cusack got was from Pat Mulcahy.

“It was a powerful email. He’s still part of it, so are other players. They’ve backed you in the past, and you’re still in it together.”

And the new players? How do they fit in with the well-established stars?

“One thing people know about us as a group of players is that we have structures, and part of that involves identifying young players as leaders – Tom Kenny, John Gardiner.

“People talk about carrying the flame. Before every game, before we go out on the field, John Gardiner tells us it’s a privilege to wear the jersey, and I believe that, and appreciate it. That’s what we’re doing now, and we’re privileged to do it. We respect what happened in the past but we’re leaving our print on it now.

“Now, the lads coming after us will leave their mark on it, and that might fly in the face of everything we’ve done, but that’s their privilege when they come in. They might have their way of doing things on the field and off that would be totally different, but we’re happy we’ve brought in positive changes. I don’t think our greatest critics would deny that.”

Good people walk on regardless
of what happens to them.

— The Buddha

One of Cusack’s positive changes is an interest in the mental side of preparation. Not Vince Lombardi cliches or Lance Armstrong platitudes either, a little deeper than that.

“I’m interested in Buddhism. I’m not a Buddhist or anything, but I’m interested in seeing what I can take out of it for myself. That’s not just for hurling, but because hurling is such a big part of my life it obviously applies there.

“I like the Peaceful Warrior books by Dan Millman, I’d say I got more out of those than anything else I read. Phil Jackson’s Sacred Hoops I enjoyed, and I gave John Allen a copy when he was manager.”

Allen, a voracious reader, recommended books for his players, and Cusack worked his way through the reading list diligently.

“Zen is something I’d be interested in, though some of the books on the subject are hard going – you might only get one-tenth of it, I’d be the first to admit that. But that interests me, and I’d try to apply it as much as I could.”

Other lessons are available to those willing to learn. For Cusack nothing is better than Sunday morning training with Cork, and after the session the team meal together, and then the goalkeeper likes to pick up the newspapers and go home to bed for an hour. One Sunday, Cusack was flicking through the sports section of one of the papers in a service station when a Jonny Wilkinson interview struck a chord.

“Wilkinson would be a hero of mine – and of a lot of fellas – because of the way he applies himself so honestly and diligently to his sport.

“In this interview he said he’d spent a lot of his career worrying about the past, and worrying about the future, when it’s the bit in between that’s important, and that’s an important lesson to learn, something that you’d try to apply to yourself. Execution — fellas know the right thing to do in a situation, but executing it is the difficult thing.

“Does that always work? No. Does it help? Yes. Living in the present, and enjoying your journey, is hugely important. A lot of players find it hard to be self-analytical while they’re playing. When I was a youngster with Cloyne, Dinny O’Shea, who’s involved with the club said to me, ‘one thing you’re good at is analysing your performances, and you should keep it up’.

“That stuck with me, and the best trainers I’ve met since, the Seanie McGraths and Ger Cunninghams, have always said to keep analysing, to keep evolving.”

It’s not all eastern mysticism. The brass tacks mean paying attention to the bread and butter of preparation.

“Obviously you don’t throw things out for the sake of it, particularly if you’ve developed them for the right reasons. But for instance, I’d have known last year that Cork’s puck-out strategy needed to evolve. With Cork the goalkeepers’ training is very good, very structured, but (trainer) Jerry Wallace pointed out last year that we weren’t doing any long striking. And he was right. Now we do long striking every night. That might sound a tiny thing, but it can be a big help. All the little things help.

“Maybe it’ s just me, but if I learn a new weights technique, or learn to do a new stretch with Declan O’Sullivan, but that gives me more of a buzz than a fella handing me a load of money, for instance.”

There are other dividends. Years of standing in front of crowded terraces have shown Cusack the significance of each game for the supporters.

“When you play you’re carrying more than your own hopes and aims. I’ve known that for a long time. The lads in work have been very good to me over the years, for instance, and I feel I’m representing them as well. A lot of other people have been very good to me. Though a lot of GAA players say they don’t have a professional set-up, in the last few years I’ve had people around me and it’s as near professional as makes no difference. Take Dr Con (Murphy), you couldn’t get better medical back-up than him. When I play I feel I’m carrying their work as with me as well.

“In terms of supporters, there’s a crew of lads who go to all the league games, everything, from Mulligan’s Bar in Cork. They understand hurling, they’ve backed the team — not blindly, they’ll debate things with you — and I respect them. They’re serious followers. They’re the kind of people you play for, because if we win they’re as happy as us, and if we lose they’re down.”

By awareness, by restraint and control, the wise may make for himself an island which no flood can overwhelm.

— The Buddha

Cork face Tipperary on June 8. Quite apart from ancestral imperatives, Tipperary will bring a young, hungry side to face the old lions. Cusack is aware of the significance of the game. And of the significance of the Tipperary manager’s comments.

“It’s a huge fixture. Liam Sheedy is trying to put as much pressure on us as he can since the start of the year. We’d have seen that from the outset, that he’s referring to Cork’s record in Cork against Tipperary.

“We know what he’s trying to do; we knew from the first time we saw him refer to it. We’ll treat that accordingly.

“We carry Cork’s record on our shoulders. But what we’ll focus on is our last competitive meeting with Tipperary, when they beat us in Thurles last summer. We’ll be focusing on that, and taking what Liam is trying to weigh us down with, and trying to turn it into a positive thing.”

Not your bog-standard chat with a GAA player, then. And all the better for that.


Meet Il Gaffer

HE CAME, he saw, he was céad mile fáilted.

Giovanni Trapattoni’s tenure as Ireland football manager began officially in the RDS yesterday, a venue more usually associated with Sinn Féin Árd Fheiseanna.

Trap may not be the man to unite Ireland, but anyone whose arrival sparks Liam Brady to do a model’s twirl to show off his Italian suit shouldn’t be underestimated.

After a brief castanet whirr of cameras, the great man was left on the stage: slightly smaller than expected, slightly paler than expected, in a grey suit that was neat rather than flash, a tie that was subtle rather than sparkling.

Trapattoni was more the elder statesman than the bella figura, a description that marks the end of this writer’s grasp of Italian (and an ongoing embargo on all groan-inducing puns about pasta, the Godfather and the Latin temperament).

By contrast, Trapattoni’s enthusiastic use of English left his interpreter, Ms Spinelli, in the Clinton Morrison role (rarely used substitute).

On that count alone Trap scores far higher than his countryman in charge of England, Fabio Capello, whose exact command of the language of his players remains somewhat mysterious (though then again, his players’ command of their own language is equally vague).

Granted, Trap’s pronunciation of some names granted them an unfamiliar exotic ring — Carslay, Doof — but as they almost used to say about Abba, his English is a lot better than our Italian.

For instance, when asked about his backroom team, he was confident enough to try a joke, saying that Liam Brady had asked for time to consider the offer to join the Ireland set-up: “Liam says he has to think, one-two-three seconds, he says yes.”

The comic timing wasn’t bad either. Seriously.

IT is true to say however that from the moment Trap faced the press yesterday he was in command.

The hand gestures were emphatic, the suit jacket was soon unbuttoned, and a wayward pen on the stage was pressed into action for emphasis: at times the new boss looked one question away from scribbling some new formations on the stage backdrop to explain his approach.

Yet there was also a subtle change of pronoun midway through Trap’s on-stage performance. His prepared speech was formal and gracious in describing Ireland as an island of a thousand welcomes, but in responding to questions from the floor on how the team would handle qualifying for major tournaments, the word “us” got plenty of airplay.

A simple move, but a canny one. Trapattoni also referred to a slew of Irish internationals, thus skewering suggestions floating around that Duff and Keane were his only landmarks in green.

As a foretaste, perhaps, of times to come, there were a couple of inswinging crosses to be dealt with, but the former centre-back dealt with those comfortably: yes, Stephen Ireland was an important player and the manager would speak to him, while the training camp in Portugal was vital for him and the backroom staff to get to know the players, particularly the younger ones. But there was a hint of iron in the glove: he certainly wouldn’t be trying to change the players’ habits immediately, that was dangerous, but if those players who’d retired didn’t want to come back to international football, then they wouldn’t be coming back.

Common sense. But if you wanted a glimpse of the manager’s ability to forge a bond, there was a moment when the man from Gazzetta Dello Sport asked a lengthy question drawing on the tactical reputation forged under Jack Charlton. Trap grinned and asked the Irish media if they’d like the query translated. Us again.

After that it was a matter of standing in for photos with his new team — Marco Tardelli, fitness trainer Fausto Rossi, Liam BradiBrady, sorry — Mick Martin, Alan Kelly, Frank Stapleton. All told, a good performance from the new man, even if tougher outings and harder questions, inevitably lie ahead.

One question that Trap wasn’t in a position to answer yesterday, however, was this: is he the only Ireland boss who’ll be unveiled to the public this week?