Sport’s hard lessons will stay with you for life

There is considerable debate going on around the county about the Leitrim management team’s decision to drop a member of the panel following a breach of discipline. I am categorical on where I stand on the issue.

There is considerable debate going on around the county about the Leitrim management team’s decision to drop a member of the panel following a breach of discipline. I am categorical on where I stand on the issue.

During Inter-cert science we were taught that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Ciaran must have known his actions would have consequences – especially considering the goings-on after the win over Sligo last year. Unfortunately, he’s not the only one who must deal with them; the management team and the rest of the squad also have to deal with those consequences, directly or indirectly.

That is the essence of team sport – there is no one player, no isolated action, there are no unrelated consequences, neither on the pitch nor off it.

Now, Ciaran is a strong young lad and very personable with oodles of football in him. I know he is well received on the squad and it will have been difficult for all his team mates to see him removed from what is a tight knit group. I’m sure it’s been a tough week for the Gortletteragh lad and I have a lot of sympathy for him. It’s not easy seeing your life being played out on the pages of your local newspaper or on faceless internet sites.

We must all remember Ciaran is an amateur giving his time to his county team without remuneration and often with little reward or acknowledgement. He is young and he’ll be back in the green and gold I have no doubt.

The decision taken by the team management was nothing personal. It was taken because sometimes a line must be drawn in the sand. I’m not savvy to the ins and outs of what happened or the type of player code of conduct that was put in place at the start of the season. I do know that every player on the squad would have known exactly what was expected of them, what was considered acceptable behaviour, and what the consequences would be if their agreed code was breached.

To ignore the consequences of Ciaran’s actions would have left the door open for others to do the same. It would have left those who adhered by the code feeling angered and frustrated, wondering if everyone on the squad is really willing to make the sacrifices necessary to move Leitrim football onto a new level. It could have left a serious rift in the squad with more long term consequences that the loss of one player, regardless of his importance to the squad or how likeable the lad is. It would have rendered the management powerless and hypocritical.

The public has been lamenting that fact that the team will be without its first choice full-back for the Mayo game, leaving an already challenging game all the more difficult. But there are bigger things that just winning and losing at play here. What George and Barney are trying to achieve – clearly with the backing of the rest of the senior panel – is to lay down a set of standards that must apply to every member of the Leitrim senior football panel from now on.

Success in team sports depends on the creation of an impenetrable bond. The squad must feel it is part of an inner circle untouchable from the outside and unbreakable from the inside. At the start of each season players are asked if they are willing to sign up to the demands required to achieve this: demands that are selfish and single-minded, requiring virtually all other aspects of your life to be shelved and neglected at times.

But no one makes them say ‘yes, count me in’. It’s a personal choice. They say yes because it opens the door to the unique experience of representing your county and all that involves; because it allows you the opportunity to see just how good you can be, to push yourself to the limit.

They say yes because you look at the lad beside you and you know that when you are breaking your balls on the training field on a cold and wet January evening, or when you are about to put your head in (where most people wouldn’t but their boot) to win a breaking ball, or when you are sitting home when your family, friends or girlfriend are out celebrating some special occasion on yet another Saturday night – you know the rest of the lads are doing exactly the same thing for you.

It’s a special feeling and one that only those who are lucky enough to represent their county know.

These are the qualities that rule most people out of contention for inter-county competition – not a lack of talent. These are also the qualities that most past players acknowledge as being the greatest legacy playing at the highest level has bestowed upon them. Medals inevitably become just another dust collector. However, the character-building work ethic, an ability to subsume to the greater good and the dedication to a cause that engaging with sport promotes stay with you forever.