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Kevin Madden: Turning talent into success requires competitive spirit

The fierce competitor is the one who will succeed

HOW many times have we all heard someone talk about a “young superstar” coming through and how he is going to be the next Peter Canavan?

This fella is the real deal. He has broken all sorts of scoring records and possesses all the attributes necessary to make it at the very top.

But he doesn’t.

In fact, he goes on to become the nearly man, talked about in pubs for years to come as that great white hope who was a shocking waste of talent. For some it is a mystery why he didn’t fulfil his undoubted potential. For others it was plainly obvious.

With the start of the inter-county season a matter of weeks away, managers will have scoured through the clubs in an attempt to unearth the next big star.

Speed, skill, endurance and strength will be physical attributes sought after. Defensive and attacking qualities will also be assessed. Many of these players will match up pretty evenly on ability and physical fitness, so how will the managers go about deciding which he thinks have a chance of making it at the highest level?

That is when personal qualities will come into their own. There are so many of these that make up the perfect player.

Does he have a good attitude and will he be a hard worker?

Will he look for excuses and others to blame or will he use criticism as a means to improve himself?

Can he perform well under pressure?

Is he a good listener? Will he be resilient when faced with the adversity that is sure to come his way?

But perhaps the most important question that will need answered is: just how fierce a competitor will he be?

As an U14 playing for Sean Stinson’s I headed to the Loup one Saturday evening for a challenge game. Playing at centre-forward my direct opponent that day was my best friend in school, later to be affectionately nicknamed ‘The Mincer’ and renowned across south Derry and beyond as a master of the dark arts.

In fairness, he wasn’t a bad footballer either. To protect his identity I will refrain from naming him. The first ball played to me was out near the side-line on the narrow Loup field known as the Meadow.

I got to the ball first, and as I bent down to pick it up, he ruthlessly drove through the back of me with his shoulder, leaving me lying in the dugout at the feet of their subs who were in uncontrollable hysterics.

My card had been marked and I had got my first taste of what it was like to fall victim to a ruthlessly competitive enforcer. We played on the same school teams, on a successful University of Ulster freshers side, and at club level won the Ulster title with Loup in 2003.

Pace was never his strong point but he didn’t need to be quick, as he always managed to find a way to curtail even the fastest of forwards.

Some days he would push tight and enforce, while in certain games he would sit off and read the game brilliantly. More often than not he would get the better of his man.

Retirement hasn’t dampened the competitive spirit. In recent times, I have played with and against him in various competitions ranging from over 35s Gaelic sevens, astroturf soccer and non-contact dodgeball. Let’s just say these are always feisty affairs with the joy of participation very much secondary to winning.

Earlier in the year, Paul McFlynn organised a very successful over 35s charity sevens with over £2000 being raised for Anto Finnegan’s DeterMND.

My Antrim select played the Loup in the semi-final and my good friend took it upon himself to carry out an enforcing job on me one more time.

As he made his way over, I immediately noticed his top row of teeth protruding venomously over the bottom lip.

For the big man, that always meant menace and I got a dreadful sense of deja vu. I remember having a chuckle afterwards when Anto asked me if I knew that fella who was laying it to me like a man possessed.

We won the game and he didn’t take it well.

You know the player who brushes off a defeat so quickly that within minutes he dusting himself down and talking about where he’s going out that night? Well that’s not him. He’s the one with his head in the hands playing back every move, cursing the outcome, gutted by defeat. The fun of participation wouldn’t be his thing. Nor would taking defeat lightly. As Vince Lombardi once said: “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”

When someone tells me to watch out for an up-and-coming player, I’ll immediately ask what the bloodline is like and what type of mentality they have.

There will be dozens of young up and coming “superstars” in the shop window come the McKenna Cup.

Most of them will have the necessary speed, strength, endurance and skill to make it. But few of them will. The one to watch out for will be the fierce competitor.



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