How about a few possibility thinkers?

Another View –  Western People

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

How about a few possibility thinkers?

THANKS to all of you from all around the world who have been sharing with me through the internet their thoughts and ideas on Gaelic football in general and on Mayo football in particular.
People living away from home have a deep and abiding interest in their county team, and I have always been struck by the passion Mayo ‘exiles’ have for the Green and Red, so I wasn’t surprised by the readyand engaging response.
Debate, as we know, is healthy as long as it is constructive and not personal. Largely speaking, people do their best, be they players, managers, coaches, county board members, club members. They work often in very difficult circumstances, and there is an understandable tendency to be defensive or be ultra conservative, or reply in a manner what does not help further the debate, and therefore the possibility of solution. The messenger often gets shot down and I can understand that too. And after yonks in the messenger business I can handle the pretty predictable reaction without getting excited.
Any debate about Mayo football should have nothing got to do with personalities. The issues are where the focus lies, and if the issues are addressed then other things also get sorted.

Take English rugby for instance. What? Well, yes, therein lies a very good example of where a very useful debate might focus in on. I am old enough to remember the days when English rugby was finished. They could not win again. They were being whitewashed by the Welsh, the Irish, the Scotts. And pulverised by the French. Media commentators used up forests of newsprint in pointing out the ills of the game there. No money. Falling player numbers.
Decaying club structures. Changing school
patterns. Low morale. There was just no light at the end of the tunnel. England would continue to be the whipping boys of the Five Nations (as it was then).
All things of course change. England can now beat New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and France. They are on top of the world. It has taken time and patience. And there was been a plan. It just wasn’t down to Jonny Wilkinson kicking the ball over the bar from all angles, the ballet feet of Jason Robinson, or the clinical and original thinking of George Hooks’ nemesis, Clive
They all played a part, but a man who won’t be known to the vast majority of sports followers also played a key role. Humphrey Walters is his name. He was put in touch with Woodward by former English captain Bill Beaumont who recognised the exceptional motivational skills of the business adviser.
By then of course, English rugby had moved on and throuigh the gears. Got real. Provided Woodward with the platform and the
wherewithal to do the business. He was able to take on, amongst other specialists, management adviser Walters who wanted to put his theories into practice and found in Woodward a like mind.

Powerful symbolism

In London a few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of The Observer and read Will Buckley’s Big Interview with Walters, who he called ‘England’s Mr Motivator.’ Not everything is revealed, of course. Probably not even a quarter of a quarter, but you realise where it’s at when you get even mere glimpses.

Readers may have read of the symbolism
Mickey Harte attaches to the Tyrone jersey and how the players put it on in unison before each game. Walters underlines that such small things can mean so much, and tells, somewhat excitedly, of the decision to change the entire English kit at half-time.
‘We had quite a lot of problems getting the players to accept this idea. We used if for the first time in the Stade de France and when
England came out for the second half the French looked at them and thought ‘Christ, have they changed their whole squad?’ Whatever had
happened in the first half, psychologically it makes you look fresh and it makes you look
bigger. In business and in sport it’s about doing 50 things one per cent better.”
There is nothing earth-shattering in changing gear, and I am sure there are many managers out there who were, twenty years ago, getting their underage teams to don fresh jerseys at half time, and especially if it had rained in the first half. The point is that the devil is in the detail. To enforce the symbolism, England presented a new shirt to the English team, with the player’s name embroidered thereon, the Friday before each game. “The players no longer threw their jerseys on the floor after the game for someone else to pick up and wash. The first game after these shirts were introduced Mike Catt was concussed badly and taken to hospital to undergo a brain scan, and the first words he said on regaining consciousness were “Where’s my shirt?”
So, I hear you ask, what’s that got to do with Mayo football? The answer is simple: nothing and everything. You have to have a dream. A good plan. And unshakeable conviction. One without the other two won’t work. Those with their
thinking caps on will add a fourth: good players. Good players help, and the more good players the better. But good players are not the starting point. We have been saying in Mayo for over half a century “if we only had the players”. It’s a feat of self delusion that takes some beating, a
cop-out really.
I had intended to address some of the many points made by contributors this week, but I will leave those over to another time.
Instead, let me leave you with this thought on Mayo football: get the other details right and the players will present themselves. It’s really as simple as that. Get rid of the red herrings. Walters observes, “great leaders are great simplifiers. Woodward … thinks with ruthless simplicity.”
And he adds, “perpetual optimism is a multiplier. Am I excited? Am I a possibility thinker?”
Maybe most of all that’s what Mayo football needs, a few possibility thinkers who think with ruthless simplicity.

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