Longford Leader columnist Mattie Fox: With Hackett on board, Down's progression is no surprise to me

Mattie Fox

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Mattie Fox

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Longford Leader columnist Mattie Fox: With Hackett on board, Down's progression is no surprise to me

Many years ago, thirty to be exact, a new GAA trainer came to Longford. 

Brendan Hackett was the youngest man to ever manage a county team at the time, when he was appointed by Albert Fallon and Jimmy Fox in the spring of 1987.
I'm quite sure John Greene was part of the operation too.
Hackett’s ways were different. For being different he was rubbished and ridiculed by some who were suffering from a mixture of being territorial, and simply not knowing any better - though few might believe the latter part, but it's absolutely true.
The Longford Leader at the time published comical accounts of Longford running over and back across the field to “warm up”.
Comical, but totally wrong.
Even more comical to read the articles again, now.
Strange, endless sniping at a new manager.
Particularly when it was scientifically wrong.
Brendan Hackett wasn't a man who was particularly good at human interaction, and saw no advantage in playing politics with football, and just got on with the job.
Meanwhile the local press just played to the gallery.
Nonetheless Longford under Brendan Hackett became a better team, and perhaps could have achieved more, were they afforded a fairer wind.
But constant unsupported sniping, can affect a team, particularly one so ingrained in the local psyche as Longford.
Roll the clock forward, and I'd be surprised if the same people would dare sneer at a team “running over and back across the field to warm up” nowadays.
What's the moral of the story?
The moral which is clear for all to see, even those who'd love to think otherwise, is that warming up, and down for that matter after games, is vital to the well being of the body.
Many things have changed since 1987 and one thing that's now fully embraced and acknowledged is the fact that no team who know anything at all about even the basics of physical well being, would dream of playing a game without warming up properly.
Many things have occurred since then, including Brendan taking on the role of manager of Westmeath, who, even then, also felt that too much time was spent on psychology.
They too, felt they knew better….
Indeed.
In more recent times, Hackett has worked away, with Kildare minors, and others under the radar.
His most recent engagement is with Down.
Nobody could understand the absolute turnaround in Down’s fortunes that happened in beating Monaghan last Sunday week, but more importantly through the latter stages of the league.
I wasn't too surprised, however. I knew that Brendan Hackett was working with them, and that whatever else, they’d be ready to take on Monaghan and be totally focused. After that anything could happen.
So it turned out.
Down outplayed and outran Monaghan again and again throughout the game and ended up winners of the match, and facing into their first Ulster Final for many years. They looked steely in their resolve, and totally focused on the job in hand.
Once the whistle for the start of the game sounded, Down went back to their old ways. They charged into Monaghan like their lives depended on it. They hit them with ferocious discipline. Monaghan never recovered throughout that first half. Within minutes two Monaghan forwards were bundled over simultaneously, with three Down players hurtling into them, leaving both players lying on the ground. This sort of play gets reaction. A primeval growl came from the crowd.
Championship football is much more than tactical awareness, super-fit, teams with a planned, worked-out system. The championship is about pride and emotion. A statement that 'This is us, and this is how we play'.
Although they were out on their feet in the last quarter of the game, when logic - and reality - would suggest that Monaghan’s superior fitness would take the day, Down held out for a famous victory.
It's important to understand that Monaghan were much fitter than Down, when it came to the last quarter. Naturally, since they've been conditioning for several years.
But it's not all about fitness.
Having good footballers, with an attitude for war, counts too.
I always say that mentality is at least 50% of the game, when it comes to the crunch, all things being equal.
Take a bow, Brendan Hackett.