Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Stanworld: The General

The great general surveyed the battlefield. It was quiet now, but for the laughs and shouts of his loyal troops, running drills in anticipation of Saturday's skirmish. By then the noise would be deafening. Full of fans waving flags and going mad, as he perceptively informed the ranks of the press corps.

What fine men they were, he thought, looking on as his players gambolled on the Croke Park turf, and how they loved him! Robbie, his lion-hearted captain whom he had watched grow from precocious boy to leader of men. Dunney, barrel-chested and brave; Shay, the inscrutable lieutenant in goal; little Duffer, so eager, so keen. He knew these men would march with him unto the gravest peril, should he give the order; even unto Macedonia.

And how he would need them now. San Marino had been a pyrrhic victory, a bloody struggle for inches of no-man's land. According to some observers, the great generals of the past would have routed the guerilla forces on that Italian hillside, crushing the rebel bands without mercy. He cared not for the mythology of the past, however, for how his predecessors had been deified. Like Big Jack, who did great work for Bord Failte with the fishing and all.

But he sensed the forces ranged against him from inside to be as threatening as those crossing the Irish Sea to confront him in open combat. "How dare they?! How dare they?!" he thundered again and again when contemplating the insiduous plotting he suspected all around him. Et tu, Mick Byrne?

Don’t be ridiculous. No, he was safe in here, with his men and the backroom staff. Honest, happy faces, loyal to the last. Here he felt strong. Let the public chatter in their taverns and places of business, let them foment discord. Too rich, idle and fat for their own good, he sniffed, as John O'Shea stretched nearby.

They'd been spoiled in the past, that was the problem. They'd grown used to the plunder of victory. But there were no easy battles in international warfare anymore. Cyprus, who once capitulated at the merest grimace from Keano, now attacked with impudence.

His mind wandered to Saturday. He thought of Sun Tzu and The Art of War. "So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will win a hundred times in a hundred battles. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you win one and lose the next. If you do not know yourself or your enemy, you will always lose." For Sun Tzu there was no such thing as a potential banana skin.

If it was true that knowing both yourself and your enemies would lead to victory, what of the Welsh, that dragon-worshipping tribe his beloved men would face on Saturday? "They know us," he thought, "we know them, we know us, and they know them, so...." His head began to hurt.

He remembered another line from Sun Tzu, as the lads began to filter back towards the dressing rooms: "A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective." He laughed to himself. This was the central tenet of his generalship, and he fulfilled its instruction to the utmost.

On Saturday they would see exactly how competent he was.

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