Gráinne McElwain: Success? In the words of Kung Fu Panda 'There is no secret ingredient'

Gráinne McElwain

Gráinne McElwain

Grainne is a columnist with The Irish News. She is a sports broadcaster with experience working with Sky Sports, TG4, RTÉ, BBC and Eir Sport.

Crossmaglen may have a rich tradition of provincial titles but seems the rest of Ulster has been going in a different direction in recent years
Crossmaglen may have a rich tradition of provincial titles but seems the rest of Ulster has been going in a different direction in recent years Crossmaglen may have a rich tradition of provincial titles but seems the rest of Ulster has been going in a different direction in recent years

Brian Cody, the former Kilkenny manager tells a story.

In 2010, Kilkenny were going for five All-Ireland titles in a row. No hurling team had every done it before and alas for Kilkenny, they didn’t do it either.

In the dressing room after the game, Cody listened to players speak about the great run they had been on, how well they had done to get this far and the sense that this was the end of the road for Kilkenny. 

The talk bothered him, as yes it may certainly be the end of the road for some players, but not for Kilkenny. Not for what Kilkenny stood for and what the values playing for the county represented. 

The Cats came back to win four of the next five All-Ireland titles and while they have not won the Liam McCarthy since 2015, they have been in four finals since then.

The point of this story is culture. What way do you react to defeat and what way do you let it define you.

The past couple of weeks has seen the same talk about the future of two very successful Ulster clubs: Crossmaglen and the Donaghmoyne ladies football club.

Crossmaglen are undoubtedly the most successful Ulster men’s senior team.

They have won 23 Armagh titles since 1996 and ,in that period, have added 11 Ulster titles, and six All-Irelands.

However, their tame exit from the Ulster championship, for the second year in a row, last year to Monaghan champions Ballybay and this year to Trillick of Tyrone, have prompted many to question, do they have what it takes to get back to winning Ulster and All-Ireland titles?

When we think of Crossmaglen, we think of mental toughness, resilience, self- belief and that never-say-die attitude.

Their actions in the past have backed this up, but the past two years have not.

Read more:

  • Trillick rediscover their mojo as Crossmaglen suffer second-half collapse
  • Gráinne McElwain: The rise of the super club seems to have squeezed rural clubs to the brink of extinction

“We have the ability to be better than what we showed against Ballybay and Trillick,” said Aaron Kernan, who recently announced his retirement from the black and amber jersey.     

“But when it comes to it, we don’t have that hardened genuine self-belief and resilience to swing momentum back when things are not going our way.”  

This was something that was a given back when Francie Bellew, Oisín McConville, John and Tony McEntee were playing.

Why is that?

“There was a culture when I began that yes we trained hard, worked hard on the pitch but individually you stepped up when needed and made it happen” said Sharon Courtney, who played for Monaghan for 14 years and has been playing with the south Monaghan club, Donaghmoyne for 22 years. 

Donaghmoyne are one of the most successful ladies' teams in the country, winning 21 Monaghan senior championships, 14 Ulster titles and five All-Ireland titles.  

They lost the All-Ireland club final last year, heavily, to Galway side Kilkerrin Clonberne and fell to the team they beat in the Ulster final in 2022, Moneyglass in this year’s provincial quarter-final. 

“There is an expectation now that someone else will make it happen, but younger players don’t always take it upon themselves to make it happen," Courtney added.

It’s easy to make the argument that younger players don’t have the same interest or buy in to the success of their club compared to other generations. This may be true but as we get older, the rose-tinted glasses do appear.

Yes, times have changed and how we deal and interact with younger people needs to change aswell.

I firmly believe that this is the case for every generation and it is up to those in charge, whether they are teachers, parents, coaches or managers to find a way.

Success in sport as it is in life, is very hard earned, it is not something that comes easily. Instant gratification is the buzz word for many aspects of our lives but in sport, that never happens.  

In the immortal words of Kung Fu Panda, there is no secret ingredient.

Both Crossmaglen and Donaghmoyne know this, but the values and traits that brought them so much success are not enough anymore. Times have changed, the mould of players that once graced their jerseys are harder to come by.

Yes there are very good players, but what carved out that immense success was the uniqueness of player and leadership. Leadership is about empowering other people to lead and you knew that no matter what, when these teams played, they would find a way.

The unspoken but universal acknowledgment that everyone would stand up when needed.

The challenge for Crossmaglen and Donaghmoyne now is to identify what they represent. Who are their leaders and who are they empowering to be the next set of leaders?

It’ll be interesting to see what way this year’s defeats for Crossmaglen and Donaghmoyne affect their future narrative.

Does it inspire them as it did Brian Cody’s Kilkenny? Or will it define who they are? A team that had a brilliant tradition, but came to the end of the road. Time will tell.