We'll never underestimate again what impact a crowd makes on a game

Limerick's comeback in 2018 was a prime example of fans making a real difference 
We'll never underestimate again what impact a crowd makes on a game

Limerick, driven on their fans, came back from what looked like a certain loss to Cork in 2018. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

IN AN interview in this newspaper and others last week, Patrick Horgan spoke about the absence of fans from big games.

It’s a topic that has merited a lot of debate over the past few months and it’s something that the Cork hurling star missed during the best part of 2020.

He said: Playing in front of 40 or 50,000 is the reason you can’t sleep the night before, the reason you do everything really because in front of a crowd like that is the last place you want to be lacking something.

“You’re going in to play against the best of the best and you have to be prepared, don’t be caught out like.

“We all love hurling, and we’d all play hurling in front of no one forevermore just to play the game, but the crowd brings a different level to the day, the excitement, the nerves, the butterflies.”

“The excitement of having a crowd is appealing because that’s what keeps you awake for an extra five minutes at night before, thinking about your movements the next day, what could work and what mightn’t work.”

Many would, I am sure, empathise with the words of the Cork star and we have plenty of information to back-up the effect that empty stadiums are having on sport in general.

Take Anfield, the home of Liverpool; a place where the word fortress sat easily for the past number of years. The team in red was almost unbeatable there and nine times out of 10 the win went the way of the home team.

Now look what’s happened, Liverpool have lost their last three games there and when they are struggling, there is no Kop to help them.

It’s the same story at Old Trafford, Manchester United will not win the league because of their poor home form.

Take last Saturday’s Calcutta Cup match between England and Scotland at Twickenham. For an age, Scotland could not buy a win at the famous, old ground.

But on this occasion, there was no ‘Sweet Chariots’ to drive on the English team and the Scots celebrated a fantastic and deserved victory.

Players and teams are driven on by supporters, all the more so in times of adversity.

ROAD TO CROKER

Recall the Limerick fans in 2018 when they trailed Cork by six in the closing stages of the All-Ireland semi-final. They got a point back, then two, three, four and their supporters were going wild.

The Limerick players fed off the almost fanatical support and it ultimately got them over the line.

Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Picture: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

A few times last season in Thurles and in the Gaelic Grounds, Cork played in empty grounds and bar the Dublin game, did not do well.

Would it have been a different story if you had the red army behind the town goal in Thurles?

Who knows, but when a passionate support is in full voice players tend to respond accordingly.

Last season players travelled in their cars alone to big games in empty stadiums and in a very interesting piece written at the time by Wexford hurling coach Seoirse Bulfin, a lecturer at Limerick IT, he posed the question what effect that was having.

He wrote: “On big match days, the ritualistic nature of the sports person tends to mean that players sit in the same seat on the bus or train, surrounded by the same people.

"Your teammates quickly become your family, and like your family they instinctively know what to say and when to say it. Some lads will sit on their own, lost in their thoughts, cocooned in the subconscious knowledge of a communal sense of trepidation, purpose, and direction with those around them.

“Others will of course seek solace in the direct company of their teammates. Chatting, laughing, discussing anything but the impending battle. 

That comfort blanket of being side by side with people who know just how you are feeling has been ripped away from you.

"Traveling to a championship game alone in your car allows a lot of time for your thoughts to take over. You do not have to be a psychologist to know that when the grey matter goes into overdrive you are on a slippery slope to sporting mediocrity.

"The doubts creep in and the self-talk can become negative and completely inhibiting."

Ask yourself this he asked; "If each soldier had to navigate their own landing craft to Normandy, how many would have completed the journey."

A very interesting analysis but for the foreseeable future it looks like the old grounds will remain empty and that will be a pity.

But these are very worrying and unprecedented times and we must accept and be directed by the experts in the only field that matters — the field of health.

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