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Political Football

Some of the footballer in Enda is needed

As Fine Gael prepare to take power with Labour, Paul Ring says the incoming Taoiseach needs to take on the job two-footed.

SPORT AND POLITICS. For better or worse they are inexorably linked.

This past week alone has seen some members of the current Superbowl champs, the Green Bay Packers line out in defence of Wisconsin public sector unions in their match up with Republican governor Scott Walker.

The shares of Juventus in Italy slumped last week as protests against Muammar Gaddafi intensified in Libya. Gaddafi’s investment vehicle owns 7.5% of the old lady of Serie A. His son once had a spell at Perugia. Just picture those negotiations.

There were few sporting angles during our own election. Some campaign posters, especially of soon-to-be Taoiseach Enda Kenny, talked of teams. Enda constantly exclaims the value of the team. Of putting the best around him and letting them get on with the job.

He, to use a football parlance, lost some of the dressing room last year as a section of young bucks launched a putsch. But he repelled them with some loyal lieutenants and restored order.  Those dressing-room leaks shored up for good after.

In a snapshot of a review of the immense The Club by Christy O’Connor, the great Tom Humphries explains that “To understand Ireland, you need to understand the GAA, to understand the GAA, you need to read this book”. No vote required on that. It is a book dripping in the blood, sweat, and tears of a parish.

You can smell the Deep Heat and hear the rattle of studs as St Joseph’s prepare for battle.  In the many team talks that ensue, expletives are thrown with the force of a fist, emotion and pride bubble, and then explode to the surface.

Perhaps a bit of that is needed today. Some simple pride. Our new leader was a keen footballer back in the day for his club Islandeady. His father was an All-Ireland winner with Mayo.  Enda was something of a fitness fanatic in his early days, forgoing alcohol to remain in peak shape. Here though, is perhaps the most important bit as he faces the impossible job: he was the talker, the leader.

One of those trusted lieutenants of his, Phil Hogan, told The Irish Times of Enda in the dressing-room: “I played football with him years ago, and the speeches he gave at half-time were inspirational . . . He wouldn’t send you back out through the door, he’d send you out through the wall.”

So perhaps it should have been Enda giving the pep talk last year as the IMF rolled into town and ultimately rolled over the government. Maybe that interest rate might have been lowered had they faced a pack of Enda-inspired dogs, straining at the leash, a crazy look in their eye as the numbers were crunched. Looking back, it wouldn’t have done any harm anyway.

Actions speak louder…

Of course the great motivators in sport need more than talk to inspire the troops. Martin Johnston will roll into the Aviva after Enda has toasted the White House on St Patrick’s Day. Johnston infamously made Mary McAleese walk on the dewy surface at Lansdowne road the last time the chariot was swinging towards a grand slam. The result is usually glossed over on this side of the pond. 6-42. Conceivably there is a lesson there too for Enda. The next time Triochet arrives make him wait at the airport.

Aaron Sorkin is probably the pre-eminent screenwriter of his age. He is also a sports nut and will write the script for “Moneyball” Michael Lewis seminal tale of how Billy Beane analysed, scrutinised and mobilised numbers to make the Oakland A’s baseball team successful again. Now Enda isn’t a numbers man we are told but sure Brian Cody doesn’t do the video analysis for Kilkenny does he? Delegation. Its all about the team.

Sorkin is most famous for the West Wing. There are many sporting metaphors used during the show. “Error-free ball” for a senate confirmation. “Slam Dunk” if a bill sails through (with his majority Enda can adopt this, “over the bar” or something).

But one sticks out. Having devilishly stolen the  limelight from President Bartlett over a weapons bill, Vice-President Hoynes offers a “Welcome to the NFL” to an irate west wing advisor.  An unforgiving, unrelenting place where mistakes are punished.

Welcome to Ireland 2011. Get that team around you Enda, the country is two down, but its half-time and you have the floor.