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How Alastair Campbell Was Instrumental In A Down Minor Championship Title Win

How Alastair Campbell Was Instrumental In A Down Minor Championship Title Win
By Conor Neville Updated

Alastair Campbell's most famous role was as Director of Communications for Tony Blair between 1994 and 2003.

Before that he had been a political journalist and news editor with the Daily Mirror and the Today newspaper. And before even that (we're going back to the seventies now) he wrote erotic short pieces for Penthouse magazine.

But last week, he assumed his most unexpected role yet, that of honorary manager of St. Bronagh's in Rostrevor in Co. Down.

 

He was presented with the Rostrevor jersey by minor manager Eamonn Devlin. How did this come about? Campbell published a book earlier in the year entitled 'Winners: And How You Succeed'. In the book, Campbell interviewed a host of people he defines as winners. These winners came from various walks of life but primarily from sport and politics. Devlin read the book and started applying the principles contained therein during his team's preparation. It became an essential companion book to Rostrevor's 2015 season.   After a flat League campaign, Rostrevor emerged to win the minor championship, beating Newry Shamrocks by five points in the final. In his end of year review, Devlin found he couldn't ignore the contribution Alastair Campbell had indirectly made to Rostrevor's minor championship triumph. He wrote Campbell a letter outlining how 'Winners' had helped turn their season around. 

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Balls.ie met with Campbell and Eamonn Devlin in the Merrion Hotel last Friday. It was not the first time this correspondent had met Campbell (we go way back).

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Last year, during an otherwise lacklustre attempt at vox-popping the citizens of Dublin on the subject of the soon to retire Brian O'Driscoll, we happened upon Alastair Campbell in the grounds of Trinity College. We confronted him with a marantz (he was most amused by a woolly windcover over the speakers) and a video camera, we persuaded him to say a few valedictory words on camera about the departing Mr. O'Driscoll, who he worked with on the Lions Tour. After a series of halting, sheepish contributions from members of the general public (all much appreciated) the slickness of Campbell was a godsend.

The big question. What separates 'winners' from those humble folk who don't fit that description? Campbell sees hard work and an ability to learn from mistakes as key. Winners are constantly analysing things.

I do think the one thing people do underestimate is just how hard they work. And they have an absolute endless fascination with the detail of what the do. I think they're strategic. I think the understand teams. And even Tiger Woods has got to have a team. I think the learn from their mistakes. One of the best lines in the book is from Colm O'Connell, the running coach in Kenya. He said 'the winner is the loser who evaluates defeat properly'.

What about sheer bloody talent? Campbell subscribes to the Einsteinian mantra that inspiration won't take you anywhere unless accompanied by perspiration.

I think it gives you a massive start. But I don't think it's enough. There's a section in the book about the Class of '92. We all know the names. Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, the Nevilles, Butt. And the guy who was their coach was a guy called Eric Harrison and he said the most talented player of them all was a guy called Raphael Burke. And he didn't make it. Because he thought the talent was enough.

The book contains a number of trusty acronyms which Devlin leaned on for inspiration throughout the triumphant championship season.

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OST = Objective, Strategy, Tactics

WIN = What's Important Now?

T-Cup = Thinking Clearly Under Pressure.

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What passages of the book inspired Devlin the most? Campbell interjects, 'Every single word!'

From cover to cover...  Early on in the book, Alastair talks about 'OST', objective, strategy and tactics. At the time it really rung home. We were going through a difficult period. The league hadn't gone as well as we'd hoped and the championship was coming back. We needed to re-group and re-apply ourselves as a team and the OST was very, very good. It gave me a real clarity about what we needed to do. From setting the objective to the strategy that we were going to take to the tactics we were going to use.

Campbell elucidates the concept some more.

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It's a very simple and necessary framework for decision-making and thinking... That's what we did in Ireland. Objective - peace. The strategy was the peace process. Principles of the process - no change without consent, fairness and equality for the nationalists. Everything else is a tactical discussion.

What is the difference between strategy and tactics? Campbell sticks close the chess definitions, in which strategy represents the broad outline of a plan while tactics are the tools one employs when putting the strategy to use - the 'little details' as Giovanni Trapattoni would term them.

That's an interesting question. It reminds me of my chat with Mourinho because he and I have an argument about that because he thinks they're the same and I don't. And I think I'm right. I don't know whether it was lost in translation and he didn't know what I was saying but I think strategy is the big idea and tactics are the nuts and bolts, the tools you use to put the strategy into action.

His definition is that for every match, he has his tactical model and if that fails he falls back on strategy. I think it's a strange definition.

Another concept which loomed large in the book that Devlin found very helpful was 'WIN' - What's important now? The concept helped Devlin prioritise at points during the season when alterations needed to be made.

They're the ones on the field, and you have to let them express themselves. And sometimes the have to figure out what the have to do. There was a great concept in the book called WIN - What's important now? We asked the players in the lead-up to a game. If it's your kickout, what's important? It's about movement and support play. If it's their kickout, it's about marking up. If it's their kickout under pressure, we want to turn it over as quickly as possible.

During the season, it was a good way to focus the players on the next game coming up in the next couple of weeks. Being in a dressing room, everyone hears the same thing all the time. And the book gave us something different. The little ideas could be applied in different ways at different times.

The example of one particular winner was followed assiduously by Devlin's side during the season. Clive Woodward's strategy of getting the players to evaluate every upcoming opponent in the World Cup was adopted by Devlin. Though he sought permission to cite Woodward as an inspiration.

Can I say Clive Woodward? He asked the players to assess each of the teams they were going to face in the World Cup. So I asked the players to look at the four teams who finished ahead of us in the league.

Inevitably, the discussion featured a brief round of 'Winner? yay or nay?

Contentiously, in the field of politics and the media, Campbell refused to allow David Cameron or Rupert Murdoch be called winners.

But, surely, the former has just won an overall majority while the latter is fabulously wealthy and controls one of the biggest media organisations in the world?

Campbell said he 'wasn't having' Cameron as a winner. He said he was a good communicator but not a strategist. While Murdoch is condemned to loserdom because he's lost his reputation. No one thinks well of Murdoch in England.

But then, what about Tony Blair? Surely, his reputation is not all it used to be? He has Tony down as a winner and is confident the world will look upon Blair in a kinder light than the one he currently bathes in among the ranks of his party.

I think Tony is a winner... I'll stick by Tony.

Finally, has Devlin been inundated with requests by other managers for a copy of the book?

 I had a few requests yesterday. Definitely. And from a few people outside of sport.

Read more: The IRA Background Of The Dubliner Whose Record Jamie Vardy Is Chasing

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