Eanna Madden is presented with the Leitrim Sports Person of the Year 2017 Award, sponsored by Leitrim County Council, by Cathaoirleach Cllr Finola Armstrong-McGuire. Photo by James Molloy
There’s a story you often hear, one designed to inspire aspiring young sports stars, that Michael Jordan – muted as the best basketball player of all time – was, during his sophomore year, cut from his high-school basketball team.
The truth, and the learning from what really happened, is more nuanced. A journalist with Sports Illustrated, Thomas Lake, some years back tracked down the coach responsible for this supposedly grave error in judgement, Clifton ‘Pop’ Herring.
Herring explained three reasons why the young Jordan was selected for the junior team (not cut as the story goes) over the seniors. The coach had a large choice of senior players to pick from that season; the squad wasn’t particularly tall, and he opted for the 6-foot seven-inches of Leroy Smith over the 5-foot 10-inch Jordan who hadn’t yet benefited from his pending growth spurt; finally, he wanted Jordan to get more court time with the juniors to develop his game rather than spend more time on the bench with the seniors.
Jordan himself was fond of perpetuating the angle of: ‘I was dropped, I wanted to prove them wrong. My resilience in the face of adversity helped make me the greatest player in the game.’ And if that’s what Jordan believes, then that’s all that matters. Each of us must find our own motivations in life.
But just consider this. If being dropped was what once made him one of the most famous sports star in the world, what would have happened had the coach picked him? Obscurity? Unlikely.
But maybe, just maybe, he mightn’t have achieved all he did. So rather than calling Herring out for making one of the greatest mistakes a coach has ever made (as is often implied when this yarn is told), Jordan might inadvertently owe Herring a great deal.
There’s no denying Jordan put the experience to good use. He says he used it as a motivation throughout his career ….. he wanted to prove the coach wrong and would imagine himself up against Leroy Smith during training. We are all driven by different things, and we all respond to adversity in different ways.
The story came to mind when reading Philip Rooney’s excellent interview in last week’s Observer with the new Leitrim Sports Person of the Year, Eanna Madden. Eanna twice experienced the heartbreak of missing out by 0.2 of a second for the World University Games in Taiwan. But the Carrick-on-Shannon Athletics Club man turned both disappointments into learning experiences and responded by retaining his 200m national title later in the year. Now his sights are firmly set on representing Ireland at the 2018 European Championships in Berlin. Watch this space.
All GAA eyes in Leitrim turn to the County Convention on Monday, December 11. The pick of the motions for me is the County Committee Motion 5: ‘The number of teams in All County Leagues be reduced at the end of the 2018 season to a maximum of ten teams per division’ with the operational nuances further outlined in the motion (see www.leitrimgaa.ie for full details).
For me, this has the potential to greatly improve the standard of league football (and therefore all football) in Leitrim and to reduce the growing number of one-sided games and walk-overs.
The proposal will worry some clubs, particularly those who see themselves most in danger of relegation from their respective divisions in 2018. I implore such clubs to look at the bigger picture and support this motion.
Water finds its own level and in time each club team will finds itself playing in the division that best reflects its abilities and ambitions. There they will find the most competitive games for their current flock of players.
If your standard improves, so should your league standing, through promotion. Every team has next season to determine what division that journey will start from. Should any side find themselves relegated – and feel hard done by this – they should, like Michael Jordan, use this experience to push for immediate promotion the following year.
Should you achieve it, you will be a better team for the experience. Should you fail to win promotion, then the system is working. You have found your level. Cruel but true.