Examiner Sports Column, Friday May 30 2008

May 30, 2008


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.
contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie


One Response to “Examiner Sports Column, Friday May 30 2008”

  1. […] Examiner Sports Column, Friday May 30 2008 « Michael Moynihan’s Irish Sportsblog Sports is about people who lose and lose and lose. They lose games; then they lose their jobs. It can be very intriguing. (tags: sport Michael.Moynihan rugby Munster MunsterVToulouse heineken-cup-final Cup08) […]

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