Are we happy to accept failure?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia commons
Image courtesy of Wikipedia commons

Ireland’s agonizing defeat against New Zealand’s All Blacks in the Autumn Internationals last weekend signaled yet another disappointment for Irish sports. Having lead the game the whole way through, all it took was one try from the Blacks to crush Irish dreams in a matter of seconds.

Within minutes of the final whistle being blown, Facebook and Twitter were awash with comments from members of the public expressing their anger and disgust. Then, just like that, the public’s words of resentment were replaced with words of consolation for a team that had “played so well.”

In his post-match interview to BBC, Seán O’ Brien expressed his frustration at his teammates for letting such a monumental victory slip through their fingers. Despite receiving words of encouragement from the journalist, he summed it up for all of us when he said: “we lost.”

The question that must be asked then is, are we as a country happy to accept failure?

Ask yourselves, would New Zealand have been so quick to emphasis the positives had the roles been reversed? The answer: probably not.

As the Irish sporting history books would suggest, we have come to be known as a nation of “second bests.” Back in 1990, Ireland suffered a harrowing loss to Italy in the world cup quarterfinals. Despite not managing to win a single game during the tournament, thousands thronged the streets to welcome home our “heroes.”

Evidently, there are those who will argue that it was a massive achievement for a country so small, but Portugal and Switzerland who are of similar population size to us have both managed to reach the top level in various sports, so why can’t we?

Ireland is a small nation that punches well above its weight in many aspects of life. We are home to some of the world’s greatest writers like Oscar Wilde, and great musicians like U2, so why doesn’t the same success transcend to sport?

Of course, we have produced many champions such as Ronnie Delaney, Michael Carruth, Robert Herffernan, Eammon Coghlan, and Sonia O’ Sullivan among others, but in recent times, our results have failed to match our potential.

Sports Psychologist Canice Kennedy believes that this is because “ we have a national inferiority complex which is typical of small, young nations previously occupied by a large foreign power.  This transfers into low levels of expectation in terms of sporting success in some sports particularly where we have not been successful in the past or where we do not have modern training facilities. In these sports we cannot compete with our neighboring countries…while we are never happy to lose, we are often happy not to lose badly.”

The reality is that there is a very thin line between success and defeat. In his famous poem entitled If Rudyard Kipling said “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…you’ll be a man, my son!” However, Roy Keane, one of Ireland’s leading sportsmen is one who is unwilling to accept this mentality as he famously once said, “show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.”

Ultimately, if you can find happiness in defeat, then you’ll never be a winner. Keane has recently taken up post as assistant to Ireland’s new football manager Martin O’ Neill. Only time will tell if he’ll be able to communicate his winning ideology to a bunch of players who are in desperate need of some tough love. And, who knows, if he can succeed, then maybe other sports will follow suit.

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