CROKE Park will be electric come 6pm Saturday, where I expect Dublin to beat Kerry in the All Ireland senior football final replay.
The evening throw-in will prolong the build-up for the players, particularly for Kerry, who will have been in their hotel since Friday evening.
The extra hours before kick-off can challenge some players more than others.
From my own days playing inter-county, or as part of a management team, I know there is no perfect way to behave in the build-up.
Rugby player Johnny Sexton was interviewed on the Off the Ball radio sports show early this week.
Sexton was discussing his development as a player, particularly how he copes in the lead-up to big international matches (of which he will have quite a few in the forthcoming world cup).
As a younger professional, Sexton thought that he needed to feel a certain way to play well. This brought stress if sleep was poor the night before, or if he was feeling more nervous than normal. This preparation was not suited to high performance. I can relate from my inter-county days when I was paranoid about routine and preparation.
Routine and consistency are needed to be a top player in any sport. But experience has taught Sexton to be more flexible directly before a game.
Sexton realised that sometimes, after a good night’s sleep and feeling great, he played poorly, while on other days, after a poor night’s sleep and feeling very nervous, he went out and played very well.
So Sexton decided that irrespective of how he was feeling come game day, that with the right belief and focus, he could still perform.
Factors such as recent form, direct opponents, competition, or experience can all affect a player’s nervousness and thinking in the lead-up to an important game. The key is not to see it as a problem.
We can sometimes see top sport people and presume they are robot-like, with their confident exterior and great performances. This does not mean that this person does not have struggles to get to that consistently high performance level.
Growing up, Sexton looked up to world cup-winning out-half, Jonny Wilkinson, who, from afar, appeared so calm, efficient, even bulletproof.
On retirement, Wilkinson revealed how he suffered great anxiety before games. He put too much pressure on himself to play well and the thought of under-performance filled him with doubt and panic. He was so driven that, between games, he became depressed.
It is amazing to think how good Wilkinson was, considering his inner turmoil. For coaches, it illustrates the importance of positive feedback, provided it is deserved, but also to understand why a player may not be performing to the standard you would like.
Performance is more than just the physical, technical, and tactical. Man-management and empathy can make all the difference.
The younger Kerry players have now experienced All Ireland day and have shown they can challenge Dublin all the way. Dublin will be glad of another chance to claim the historic five-in-a-row.
This will lead to different thoughts and feelings for each player in each camp this Saturday afternoon, and perhaps different to what they felt two weeks ago, before the draw. The key will be staying calm, sticking to the plan, and ignoring the doubts that can sabotage your performance.
Provided Dublin keep 15 men on the field, then I expect more discipline defensively and more potency in attack. There will still only be a few points in it, but I expect Dublin to win.
There may be one or two changes personnel-wise, but it will be interesting to see if Kerry bring something else to the table tactically, to gain an edge or to just limit Jack McCaffrey’s influence.
Starting Tommy Walsh is the obvious ploy, but I just feel he will still be kept in reserve, for a greater impact later in the game.
Dublin will just focus on putting in a better performance, in particular reducing the high error count early in games and individual mistakes in defence.
The wet conditions accounted for their mistakes in the Leinster final against Meath, but sloppy turnovers were still evident early on in the Cork, Mayo, and Kerry games, when conditions were good. Jim Gavin was right, in stating directly after the All Ireland final that the players would be disappointed with the performance.
If Kerry create goal chances this week, they most certainly must take them, because I sense that Dublin will be improved in attack. There will be greater pressure and success on Shane Ryan’s kickout, plus Dublin will use more patience and width when required to break down the Kerry defensive arc.
Eliminate the poor decisions defensively and then the Sam Maguire is certainly staying in Dublin.
Contact: tweet @paudiekissane or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonny Wilkinson put too much pressure on himself to play well and the thought of not performing filled him with doubt and with panic