Momentum and confidence are the great intangibles that every sportsman or sportswoman would be able to bottle.
Why can a group of players’ level of performance change so dramatically, with all tangible factors staying broadly the same? When Arsenal set an English league record of 49 games without defeat, the run ended with a controversial defeat at Manchester United in October 2004. Then, having looked unbeatable for so long, they almost lost at home to Southampton the following week.
Trying to get to the bottom of the conundrum is far from easy, as illustrated by the fact that so many sides have sports psychologists in their backroom teams.
While we spent all of last year saying that it was a year like no other, the current season is even stranger in that a number of sides beginning their campaigns over the last two weekends have done so with a county final appearance under their belts as a warm-up.
Winning a title is obviously a boost to any side but, apart from the top grade, the prize can be a double-edged sword in that promotion to a higher level ostensibly means tougher games.
And yet, after the opening rounds of games in the senior and intermediate football and hurling championships, the only team to win a delayed 2020 final this summer and then not win their group-stage opener was premier SFC champions Nemo Rangers.
Éire Óg claimed a double with wins in the SAFC and IAHC finals against Mallow and Aghabullogue respectively. In normal circumstances, dual clubs can find it difficult to launch double assaults but the Ovens outfit were having to take on steps up in both codes – and yet they came through their tests against Carbery Rangers and Youghal respectively.
Up to the senior A football grade in place of Éire Óg were Knocknagree, who beat Kanturk in the PIFC final at the start of August. They faced another Duhallow derby for their first assignment, going up against Kiskeam, who had been senior before the restructuring, but they made light work of the challenge – as manager John Fintan Daly said afterwards, they didn’t want to be a quiz question, the team who were relegated two months after being promoted.
Also flying the Duhallow flag were Rockchapel, victors against Mitchelstown in the 2020 IAFC final recently. Just two weeks later, they were in PIFC action against St Vincent’s and came through that with flying colours, scoring four goals. And, completing the set of clubs who won their first match in a new grade were the junior champions Iveleary, who overcame St Finbarr’s last weekend, a month after the county final.
As mentioned above, the exception was Nemo Rangers. Having beaten Castlehaven in the premier senior final on August 29, they had just six days to prepare for a clash with Valley Rovers, who avenged their defeat of last autumn. It was a shorter timeframe than any of the other sides had to deal with and, of course, an opposition that is now a well-established senior outfit. Certainly, nobody is writing Nemo’s obituary for this season.
On the same day, the Haven bounced back from their loss by beating Newcestown, with manager James McCarthy pointing to the unity that came from the bonding in the wake of the defeat – a positive from a negative.
Three hurling championships – premier senior, senior A and premier intermediate – were completed within the 2020 calendar year, but of the others, the same trend can be seen. We have mentioned Éire Óg’s heroics, while Castlemartyr ascended to intermediate A with a lower IHC final win over Russell Rovers in their East Cork derby and had 15 points to spare on Douglas on Sunday. In addition, the junior A champions Lisgoold, who beat Harbour Rovers at the start of August, had no issues in adjusting to intermediate as they beat St Finbarr’s by nine.
The great thing about momentum is that it tends to multiply; the more you have, the more you get. All of the teams listed above are now motoring for the year and winning can become a habit – who’s to say that one or more won’t emulate the Cork’s achievement in U20 hurling by winning two titles in the same year?