January 24, 2010

Finally! A Game Plan For An Irish Brand

Sometimes I wonder do we Irish appreciate the importance of the scenarios being played out before us on the fields of Thomond Park, the RDS and Croke Park. And on foreign fields too.

For so long, the success of Irish sporting brands on the world stage was the result of shimmering, individual talent or a brilliant, if unlikely, solo run, rather than team effort, and we joked that the first item on the agenda of any Irish collective was the split. Whilst the likes of Ronnie Delaney, Barry McGuigan and Stephen Roche proudly flew the flag in their individual sports, our teams generally lowered their colours whenever sustained collective effort was required.

Of course, there were exceptions, but when the Irish camp split on the eve of the soccer World Cup in 2002, it seemed true to form and suggested that we were chronically unable to build brands that were so much more than the sum of their parts.

Now, I know that sporting analogies can leave many of us cold, but I do think Irish rugby offers a brand-builder something of a blueprint for a successful Irish brand. Whether or not the Irish, Leinster and Munster teams repeat their recent triumphs next time out, all three teams can speak confidently of their ambitions to be the best, and point to the combination of inspiration, perspiration and organisation that they bring to the campaign.

And to the distinctively Irish way in which they do so. For it's evident that these players relate with one another and with their public in a way that marks them out in any international company.

It's quite extraordinary that any team drawing on such relatively shallow resources of talent can lay claim to be the best at their game, but few of us would dismiss the chances of any of the three teams to prove just that in the months ahead. And whilst it seems a tragedy that either Munster or Leinster must do it at the expense of the other, it is, of course, a triumph in any event for Irish sport that we have two competing teams at the very top of the game.

I'm reading Donal Og Cusack's autobiography, Come What May, at the moment, and the revelations that shock me are not those relating to his sexuality (which made all the headlines), but the way in which he describes how a highly-talented Cork team with ambitions to be the very best in Irish hurling fell apart because those who managed it were unable to commit to the combination required to deliver sustained brilliance. Whilst there are two sides to every story, what comes through is the lack of honesty in some quarters, which undermined the efforts of many in the team to do what it took to challenge Kilkenny over the past few years.

And so, although my own sporting roots are less rugby and more soccer and gaelic games, it's to Irish rugby I look for a game plan when I consider how to go about building an Irish brand.

Over To You: Where do you suggest I look for a model of great Irish brand-building in action?

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