Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Pat Spillane's contradiction is all his own fault

Pundit Pat Spillane has never been afraid to share his views on the modern game

Pat Spillane. What does he mean to you? Insightful analyst of Gaelic football today? Or a man bored to the point of frustration with what he has to do most of his well-paid summer Sundays?

The thing to remember is that Pat wasn't always like this. In his time, he was one of the most forward-thinking footballers on one of the most progressive teams the GAA has ever witnessed. So let's separate the two men, call them 'Player Pat' and 'Pundit Pat.'

Player Pat re-invented the role of wing-forward, dropping deep into his own half to help out his defence.

Pundit Pat says every team should go man-to-man and forget about defensive responsibilities.

Player Pat used to sit on the team bus getting in the zone. As he said himself, "going to a big match I'd sit for a half-hour with my eyes closed and go through every move, every kick, every scenario ... "

Pundit Pat scoffs at the idea of visualisation and sports science in the modern game, including sports psychologists and GPS tracking devices.

Player Pat's knee is the physical legacy of his playing career. Standing for a long time brings pain. He once shredded it playing a club game for Templenoe but later that night the pain eased. He went off to the Fleadh Ceol in Kilgarvan and danced 'The Siege of Ennis', with it hanging by a thread. His team mates have plastic hips and knees and their bodies are ravaged by cortisone injections and endless training sessions.

Pundit Pat feels there is no need for the medical back-up that modern county squads have.

Player Pat built a gym in his garage and built up the muscle around his knee, pushing weights while avoiding the mice that terrified him.

Pundit Pat thinks players should avoid the gym, despite once saying, "I look at Sean Og O hAilpin, the first professional amateur. My training regime would've been as hard if not harder."

Player Pat got to see the world with Kerry, travelling up to the north for exhibition games to raise the funds for these trips, where they would be fêted as kings wherever they went.

Pundit Pat thinks that a kit van for a county team is a scourge on the modern game.

Player Pat used to wear a knee bandage on his good knee. If he was going to get a rap on it, at least the good knee would take it. It was a cute move.

Pundit Pat feels that Peter Canavan contributed to Fermanagh's defeat by not playing the team he named in midweek, calling it hocus-pocus.

Enough examples. You get the idea. Pat did everything he could to become the best he could be as a player – some of it was misguided of course, but when today's players try everything to improve, he scoffs and mocks and sneers and makes no attempt to temper his criticism.

Spillane is now to The Sunday Game what the clown driving the car, parping a comedy horn before he reaches the middle of the ring and the wheels fall off, is to Duffy's circus. We know what's going to happen, and he delivers every time. And it is meant to cause hysteria. Every. Bloody. Time.

Yet the strange thing is that his view is a common one among a certain generation. Ireland has an aging population like never before and you don't have to go far to find somebody who shares Pat's pain and anguish.

But while Pundit leaves the boot in on players from Antrim and Fermanagh, the reality is that neither county would have featured in televised games until the last decade.

Pundit said that Peter Canavan has not improved Fermanagh one bit in the time he has been there. He bases that opinion on one recent match watched on television. He hasn't seen Fermanagh in the flesh in at least five years.

Canavan won promotion in his first season and came within a missed penalty of repeating the trick. Pundit is talking through his hat.

Pundit also said that Down's tactics did not work against Donegal. He didn't ever bother showing us the two wides, Donal O'Hare's free kick hitting the post, or the four chances dropped short that could have sealed a win.

As Player, the achievements were astonishing. Nine All-Stars. A place on the team of the millennium. Eight All-Ireland medals. Let's not forget that Player, was probably among the top 10 ever to play.

But Pundit, a fictional television creation, has overtaken him. A shame, but don't be too sympathetic, as it's all of his own making.

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