If we care about football, simply ‘not caring’ about the Qatar World Cup isn’t enough
by Adam Moynihan
Normally this would be a time of great excitement for fans of the world’s favourite game.
The World Cup is just a matter of days away. At its best, the competition is a festival of football that entertains and enraptures a passionate audience on a global scale. Even here in Ireland, where our team is starved of World Cup appearances, the games attract massive interest.
Sadly, however, it seems like your average fan doesn’t really care about this upcoming instalment. Certainly not to the same extent they cared about instalments past.
On the one hand, I get it. Being apathetic is a normal response to a lot of what has been happening lately and it’s fair enough to feel like you just can’t be bothered getting properly into this particular World Cup.
But I also really think we need to challenge ourselves to go that bit further. To dig a bit deeper into our own hearts and minds. To feel something.
Let’s start at the start. Qatar was chosen as the host nation for the 2022 World Cup following a selection process that was tainted by accusations of bribery and corruption.
Many of the FIFA administrators who oversaw the process – people like Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini - have since been banned from football. Several other executive committee members have faced criminal charges over their conduct while working for the sport's governing body.
It is widely accepted that Qatar, a very small place with summer temperatures that are not conducive to outdoor sports, a place that effectively had no big-tournament infrastructure, was unfairly handed the biggest summer sporting event on Earth. That should make you feel something.
Furthermore, Qatar is a country where LGBTQ fans are not welcome. I recently spoke to a couple of friends from Kerry who have lived in the Middle East (one resided in the UAE and visited Qatar, the other lived in Doha for two years) and neither feel as though Qatar is a suitable host nation. One described the decision to play the World Cup there as “madness”.
What would they say to a gay friend who wanted to travel to the World Cup?
“Openly gay?” the former UAE resident replied. “Forget about it. They’ll be thrown in jail and that’s a fact. There’s going to be massive culture clash.”
A number of horror stories relating to the treatment of gay people in Qatar have come to light recently. These stories should make you feel something.
Qatar also has a very poor record when it comes to racism, which makes something of a mockery of their claims that anti-Qatar World Cup criticism is, itself, racist.
In 2020, a report by the UN highlighted concerns around “structural racial discrimination” against non-nationals, adding that a “de facto caste system based on national origin” exists there.
“European, North American, Australian and Arab nationalities systematically enjoy greater human rights protections than South Asian and sub-Saharan African nationalities,” the report found.
That friend of mine who used to live in Doha was unequivocal in his assessment of labour laws in the country: it amounts to “modern-day slavery”. That should make you feel something.
Meanwhile, you have high-ranking football officials instructing players to “focus on the football”. A letter from the pen of FIFA president Gianni Infantino urged participating teams not to allow football “to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists. At FIFA, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs, without handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world”.
Even by FIFA standards, the rhetoric found in the letter is incredibly stupid and tone deaf. Their attitude should make you feel something.
And then there are the deaths. Last year The Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers had died since Qatar had been awarded the World Cup in 2011. (The precise figure of those who have died building the infrastructure needed to host this tournament is unknown.)
6,500. That is, roughly speaking, every man and boy in Killarney. Think about that for a second. Your father. Your brother. Your son. Your best friend. 6,500 lives sacrificed.
That should make you feel something.
If you were to tally up all the players who participated in the qualification process, 204 teams multiplied by around 30 players each, your total would be pretty close to that figure of 6,500. Would we care more if it was the footballers who died instead? That’s a rhetorical question. Of course we would. If even one superstar, someone like Messi for example, lost his life, it would be mourned on a larger scale than what we have witnessed for those migrant workers in Qatar.
Acknowledging that should make you feel something.
We all know that this project amounts to sportswashing for the Qatari government. You might well argue that football has been used as a political tool in the past, from Argentina in 1978 to Russia in 2018. The owners of Manchester City, PSG and Newcastle United are engaging in sportswashing too. As far as a large proportion of soccer fans are concerned, the game sold its soul a long time ago.
This World Cup – everything about it - takes things to a different level, though, and it’s a level that I, personally, am not comfortable with. Soccer was my first love. I’ve played and followed the game for 30 years and like a lot of people I can measure my life in major tournaments.
When I’m old(er) and grey(er) and I look back on my life, Qatar 2022 will go down as a different kind of milestone for me: the first World Cup that I didn’t watch.
Apathy is one response and, as I said, it’s understandable to some extent. Sometimes things get so heavy, the easiest thing to do is to disengage from the bigger issues at hand and focus on the lighter stuff (i.e. the actual football).
But I do believe that if we care about football then simply not caring about this World Cup isn’t good enough. If we’re willing to accept this tournament and play our part and watch the games and pretend it’s all fine, what else are we willing to accept?
Where is the line if it hasn’t already been crossed?
Photo Credit: historyofsoccer.info
Are Kerry really a one-man team? Let’s take a look at the numbers
Joe Brolly and others have described Kerry as a one-man team. Brolly recently said the All-Ireland champions are “mediocre” and “nothing” without David Clifford.
Let’s analyse the numbers to see just how reliant Kerry are on the reigning Footballer of the Year…
Since making his debut in 2018, Clifford has scored 24 goals and 234 points in his 57 league and championship appearances.
He has registered 20-139 from play, plus four penalties, 85 frees, and 10 marks. He is averaging 5.4 points per game.
So far in 2023 Clifford has scored 47 of Kerry’s 195 points (24.1%). This is slightly down on his percentage from last year (25.2%), although he has missed two games so far compared to one in 2022.
Here are the figures for the previous four years:
2021 Clifford got 63 out of Kerry’s 217 points (29%)
2020 42 out of 186 (28.8%)
2019 36 out of 285 (12.6%)
2018 51 out of 240 (21.3%)
Remarkably, Clifford has scored every single time he has taken to the field.
In recent weeks he has been sensational. He had 2-6 against Clare, 0-8 against Mayo and 1-5 against Cork. Against Mayo in particular, many of his teammates underperformed. This, to a large extent, is what has prompted the debate – although Brolly has called Kerry a one-man team in the past.
His numbers are certainly impressive and he is unquestionably Kerry’s most important player. But how do his stats stack up against those of his rivals, and his own teammates?
We would need to compare Clifford’s data against all the other top forwards to get a full picture but just by way of example, Dean Rock kicked (or fisted) 30.6% of Dublin’s points in 2022. Clifford’s highest ever percentage for a season is 29%.
Shane McGuigan has scored 37.1% of Derry’s points in the 2023 championship. Clifford has notched 34% of Kerry’s total. Does this make Derry a one-man team?
Clifford has scored 50% or more of Kerry’s points in just one of his 57 games. (He got 1-5 out of 1-10 against Galway in 2018.)
In the 2023 All-Ireland group stage alone, this feat has already been achieved by the aforementioned McGuigan, Darren McCurry (Tyrone), Cormac Costello (Dublin) and Oisín Gallen (Donegal).
Clifford has been Kerry’s top scorer in 23 of his 57 games, and joint top scorer in seven. Naturally enough, someone else has been top scorer the other 27 times.
Looking at campaigns as a whole, Clifford has been Kerry’s top marksman in the championship just once, in 2018. (He was also joint top scorer in 2020 as he and Killian Spillane both scored 0-4 in Kerry’s only match.)
Meanwhile, Seán O’Shea has been Kerry’s leading scorer in the championship three times (2019, 2021 and 2022).
Clifford and O’Shea made their debut together in 2018. Their scoring rate is almost identical. O’Shea has scored 338 points in 64 appearances (5.3 points per game) versus Clifford’s 306 points in 57 appearances (5.4 points per game).
O’Shea has scored 25% of Kerry’s points since January 2018. Clifford has scored 22.7%. Clifford is more prolific from play, granted, but if nothing else the percentages clearly show that more than one man is getting the points on the board.
All told, over three-quarters of Kerry’s points during Clifford’s career to date have been scored by his teammates.
Of course, putting the ball over the bar isn’t everything. Clifford also contributes via assists and by drawing defenders’ attention away from his fellow forwards. Unfortunately the assist data is not readily available and the amount of attention he attracts is not easily quantifiable.
Clifford also seems to strike for goals and points at important times. Again, this data is not readily available.
Kerry’s record in games in which David Clifford did not play is surprisingly good. He has missed 10 fixtures. Kerry have won eight of them and lost two.
The Fossa forward is a phenomenal player but several of his teammates are also legitimate stars in their own right. The likes of Jason Foley, Tom O’Sullivan, Seán O’Shea and Paudie Clifford are elite footballers who would start for most, if not all, other teams in the country.
Kerry’s captain is a generational talent, and he is standing out even more at the moment because a number of his teammates haven’t really been playing to their potential. Kerry have been depending on him more in recent weeks. That much is true.
But you have to question if a one-man team is even possible at this level. For example, as good as Clifford was against Cork, Kerry still needed O’Shea to kick his five points. Jason Foley had an excellent game in defence, keeping the dangerous Brian Hurley scoreless from play.
It’s never really just one guy, even if the highlight reel might suggest otherwise.
Would Kerry win the All-Ireland without Clifford? Probably not. Every team needs their best player, even more so if the player in question is a potential GOAT candidate.
However, when we look at the numbers, and also when we consider the calibre of some of the players around him, it seems unreasonable to say that Kerry would be “nothing” without him.
Kingdom hoping to lay some old ghosts to rest at Páirc Uí Chaoimh
by Adam Moynihan
All-Ireland SFC Group 1
Cork v Kerry
Saturday at 3pm
Páirc Uí Chaoimh
I was one of the unlucky few to have been present at the last Cork-Kerry clash in Páirc Uí Chaoimh in November of 2020. It was a truly awful night.
The match was played behind closed doors which made for an eerie, unsettling atmosphere, and the rain came down harder than I ever remember seeing first-hand.
Unfortunately, Kerry came down hard too. Mark Keane’s last-ditch goal clinched an unexpected victory for the hosts and, just like that, Kerry’s year was over.
It always hurts when your team loses but that one completely floored us all. It was such a horrible way to lose a game and I felt so bad for the players as they trudged off the field, soaked to the bone and shaken to the core.
They got some form of payback the following year when they won by 21 in the Munster final, and again last year when they ran out 11-point winners in the semi-final. But something tells me that it would mean a lot more to return to Páirc Uí Chaoimh and do the business there.
It won’t be easy. The final scorelines in the last two games suggest that it was all one-way traffic but that simply wasn’t the case. In 2021, Cork led by 1-5 to 0-4 at the water break (remember those?) and they pushed Kerry hard 12 months ago too. There was nothing in that match right up until the 50th minute, at which point Kerry brought on David Moran and Paul Geaney and ultimately pulled away.
You can never really read too much into the McGrath Cup but Cork demolished Kerry in January. Their form since has been spotty but they did well to see off Louth last week, with the returning Brian Hurley (shoulder) kicking eight points in a two-point win. Hurley has proved to be a handful for Kerry full back Jason Foley in the past.
Significantly, John Cleary’s side are strong in a key area where Kerry struggled against Mayo: midfield. Ian Maguire and Colm O’Callaghan scored 0-2 each in Navan (and the latter scored 2-4 in that aforementioned McGrath Cup game at the start of the year).
Jack O’Connor named his team last night with Adrian Spillane replacing Tony Brosnan and Paul Murphy coming in for Dylan Casey. Spillane will add some extra brawn and energy around the middle third. Going by the last outing, Kerry need it.
It is also worth noting that David Clifford has never really shot the lights out against Cork. He has been well minded by Maurice Shanley, Seán Meehan and Kevin Flahive in the past three championship meetings, with the retreating Seán Powter also getting stuck in when needed.
Flahive suffered a cruciate injury late in last year’s game but he could potentially be in line for a comeback tomorrow; he has been added to Cork’s 26 for the first time in over 12 months.
Meehan has been ruled out with a hamstring injury so Shanley may be asked to track the Footballer of the Year this time around.
Clifford was one of the few bright sparks against Mayo and he would love to bring that form to the Páirc on Saturday. With vital points on the line, there would be no better time to lay some ghosts to rest.
From a Kerry perspective, you would hope – and perhaps expect – that Clifford and his teammates can do exactly that and get the show back on the road.
1. Shane Ryan
2. Graham O’Sullivan
3. Jason Foley
4. Tom O’Sullivan
5. Paul Murphy
6. Tadhg Morley
7. Gavin White
8. Diarmuid O’Connor
9. Jack Barry
10. Dara Moynihan
11. Seánie O’Shea
12. Adrian Spillane
13. Paudie Clifford
14. David Clifford
15. Paul Geaney
Subs: S Murphy, T Brosnan, D Casey, BD O’Sullivan, R Murphy, M Burns, M Breen, S O’Brien, D O’Sullivan, C O’Donoghue, S O’Brien.
1. Micheál Aodh Martin
2. Maurice Shanley
3. Rory Maguire
4. Kevin O’Donovan
5. Luke Fahy
6. Daniel O’Mahony
7. Matty Taylor
8. Colm O’Callaghan
9. Ian Maguire
10. Brian O’Driscoll
11. Ruairí Deane
12. Killian O’Hanlon
13. Seán Powter
14. Brian Hurley
15. Chris Óg Jones
Subs: P Doyle, C Kiely, T Clancy, K Flahive, P Walsh, E McSweeney, B Murphy, J O’Rourke , M Cronin, S Sherlock, F Herlihy.
New bio-energy therapy clinic open on Beech Road
Have you ever wondered what happens when you deal with an emotionally charged situation or experience high levels of stress...
Spotted an otter lately?
Users of Killarney National Park are being asked to keep an eye out for otters – one of the country’s...
Kerry International Film Festival presents Youth Filmmakers Showcase in Killarney
Kerry International Film Festival (KIFF) will collaborate with SONAR, a Killarney-based youth film group, and ELF (Emerging Limerick Filmmakers) to...
Listry Community Counci honoured Local resident Tony Darmody with the presentation of the O’Shea Award at its recent Annual General...
Killeen House Hotel changes hands
The Killeen House Hotel, an award-winning 23-bedroom hotel in Aghadoe, Killarney, has announced its sale to Killarney businessman Patrick Eviston,...