Posted by Ewan MacKenna
Wednesday 5 September 2012
Here’s the problem. The most impressive performance out of Dublin this year came from their marketing people.
All around the capital there’s no avoiding the billboards with players promoting everything from football boots to mobile phones. You can be sure that in the accounts department of the dethroned All Ireland champions, there’s no avoiding it either.
What they have done in the space of a handful of years is simply brilliant as they’ve gone from just another team to a brand that’s almost bigger than Gaelic football itself.
But while the county board were ready for it, you wonder were the players because all season long, Dublin have fallen well short of the high standards they set for themselves a year ago.
At the beginning of this season, on this very website, Mickey Harte spoke of the difficulty of going back-to-back and called it when it came to Dublin. He noted that you inadvertently lose your sharpness by basking in the fact you are champions and in doing so, you forget how hard it was to be champions in the first place.
You don’t even know that it’s happening but come the summer, you find others have passed you out because they wanted it much more. It’s why a Tyrone team far better than Pat Gilroy’s never managed it and they didn’t even have the distractions and comforts that some of this Dublin side have had surrounding them.
Of course there’s the mobile phone sponsorship deal that’s unavoidable, but beyond the obvious transaction there’s still more as gigs run by that same operator are one of the few chances to get to talk to players, unless you get in touch with Adidas and are lucky enough when heading down that alternative corporate route.
But there’s so much more high-powered business surrounding these players. Quite a few of them are driving brand new Renaults around the place as part of another sponsorship deal while earlier this year the players and their wives headed for Florida and the Cayman Islands.
There’s nothing unusual about that as a reward for winning it all, but what was different was it marked the beginning of a three-year-deal between Dublin and their new official carrier Aer Lingus.
Little wonder ‘Unleashing the Blue Wave,’ Dublin’s strategic plan, called for the allowance of an additional shirt sponsor as there’s no end of companies that want to be seen to be helping these players and Dublin are determined to squeeze every cent out of their names.
But that can only affect amateur players in some small way, which needs to be taken into account in what is now a game of inches more so than ever before.
If you get treated as a superstar without playing like one, you lose a little motivation. As Harte said, as champions you tend to come back under-prepared. But as champions with obligations to high society that only multiplies the problem and while being part of that scene is all well and good, you can’t forget how you got to be part of that scene in the first place.
Indeed, in a world of perks, you can lose sight of what’s really important. In professional sports, players are surrounded by experts who keep them focussed but while Dublin are now professional away from football, they need to remember that their players are still just as amateur as everyone in every other county.
Of course Dublin still train remarkably hard but it’s impossible for such surroundings not to impact on amateur players at some point. You cannot but change a little as an amateur player going from corporate gig to corporate gig while in the background being taken care of in ways you never were before.
It would happen any player in the country, only most of the country isn’t subjected to it. In recent days, there’s been no sign of Aidan O’Shea selling Ivomec and it’s he and not any of this Dublin group that is heading to an All Ireland final.
There’s nothing wrong with what Dublin are doing by taking a natural advantage they have in terms of numbers and profiting from it. It leaves them cash to train the next generation of players and it’s why Dublin have a conveyor belt of talent coming through from underage grades like no one else about.
But if cashing in takes care of the future, its effects must also be taken into account when it comes to the present. There’s always going to be a different dynamic in the city but if Dublin complained about hype and attention that no one else was subjected to in the past, right now they are actively chasing it for non-football reasons. That’s not good enough when you aren’t doing it on the pitch.
And Dublin haven’t done it on the pitch at all this year. They have been sub-par to the extent that people actually believed they were bored by it all and would simply turn it on against Mayo because they were again interested.
The feeling was that it had all been planned and Dublin were ready to peak now that they’d arrived at a target market that excited them. Only the great teams can do that, just as Kerry did in 2009. But this Dublin team isn’t yet great and you’ve to win more than one All Ireland to be treated as such in the rest of the country.
Dublin’s sponsors would do well to remember that when treating their players like legends, even when they are playing like anything but on the field.
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