Tomás Ó Sé: You can't win an All-Ireland final in the build-up but you can lose it
Published 10/09/2016 | 17:00
An All-Ireland final can't be won in the couple of weeks beforehand, but I tell you, you can go along way towards losing it.
Get things wrong and you'll be playing catch-up. But get them right and you'll have given yourself an edge. And to win an All-Ireland final, you need just about everything right.
The Mayo and Dublin players will have spent these few weeks doing things their own way. It's not a 'one size fits all' kind of thing. You have to find your own way of dealing with the build-up.
Some will take to it. The excitement around the place just suits their soul. Others will go into lockdown. And that might change over the course of a career.
All I can tell you that I was very different in the build up to my first All-Ireland final in 1997 from how I was in my last in 2011. Perhaps when you see the sun setting on the amount of big Croke Park days you relax a bit more and try and absorb as much as you can.
The problem is, there's no silver bullet to make an All-Ireland final build-up more agreeable.
There's no one thing that I can say must be avoided, but there are a thousand little things that can drag you down. Tickets, suits, boots, media. All that stuff.
They can pull energy from you in one way or another and take your focus off the job in hand. Getting them taken care of and out of the way was my first priority.
Tickets could be a huge pain if you let them so I usually got done with them pretty quickly. Between myself, Darragh and Marc, people would know we'd have a fair few tickets floating around so the house phone would hop.
I used to just hand them over to someone and let them deal with it for me. The weekend before the game I'd have my allocation sent out and anyone who contacted me after that wasn't going to get any joy. At that stage you were in the bubble and there was no coming out of it.
We used to stay a night in Killarney the weekend before the final. There, we'd get an awful lot boxed off.
We might have the media on the Friday night. I didn't like putting myself up for it and managers respected that but the lads who did would be effectively told what to say. "So-and-so are a good team, we'll have to be at our best to beat them". The usual nonsense.
You'd be very careful. Too much had gone into getting this far. You weren't going to hand the opposition a gun to shoot you with a careless slip of the tongue.
I actually used to keep an eye on what the pundits were saying, looking for something to drive me on.
After that we'd have a meeting, talk tactics and discuss who you might be picking up. The next day we might have the A v B game. For me, those games were just for getting through in one piece but there'd always be a bolter or two who'd have a stormer.
You might have a fella who was on the B team in the final trial game the weekend before but he'd be marching behind the Artane Band on All-Ireland Sunday. So they'd be tasty enough affairs. I was lucky enough to be pretty sure of my place in the build-up to most All-Ireland finals. Going into those games I was happy I had the work done.
If I was going to get beat, I'd get beat with football, not because I wasn't ready or because I was carrying a little injury. And if someone beat me with football, I suppose I could live with that.
2006 wasn't one of those years. I went well, really well, either side of that season but for whatever reason, I just couldn't get going that year. And you know what, I knew it too.
I remember Jack O'Connor pulling me aside one day and saying as much to me. He told me I was under pressure for my spot. Now everyone is different but that just didn't sit well with me. I knew I wasn't going well and here was this fella coming at me and stating the obvious. I started the final that year alright but was subbed early in a game we were comfortable in.
That's what I mean when I say everyone's different. Jack's approach might have been the kick in the arse some other fella needed but to me it felt like I was getting the boot put on my head when I was already struggling to stay afloat.
Anyway, the weekend before, we'd get a lot done. The gear would be distributed. The suits would be sorted. I'd usually try and get a day or two off work before the final, just to get the head right. I'd retreat to the house and make sure I met the minimum amount of people.
I always used to think I was lucky to be based in Cork. You were a little further removed from it than you would be in Kerry. I liked that.
I can't imagine what its like for players now. Twitter, Facebook and all this is great but when you need a clear head you'd have to stay a million miles away from it.
Put it this way, seeing some lad having painted his Ferrari in the Mayo colours won't have helped those lads this week. Anything that doesn't contribute to getting you right for the big day simply has to be shunned.
In '97 I was just out of minor. I was on the panel alright but I felt like I was along for the spin and to get the experience for down the line. So I really enjoyed the build-up. I was a young fella and delighted to be part of it. And there was a bit more razzmatazz that time because we hadn't won in 11 years.
Seamus MacGearailt was involved at that time. And on the morning of the game he pulled me aside and told me to be ready. Basically he hinted I'd get on.
And Jesus it turned the whole thing on its head for me. I didn't play in the end and it might have been just as well. I didn't cope with the prospect well at all. I think now it was just his way of keeping me on my toes.
By the time I played in 2011, I felt like I had the thing pretty much down. The team bus would get me in Mallow on the Saturday and we'd travel up.
We'd stay well out of Dublin. We stayed in Dunboyne in Meath a good bit. If there was a wedding on in the hotel, our rooms would be well away from it. There was usually a room where there'd be tea or coffee and fruit laid out for us.
You could tip out for a walk maybe. You might convene in someone's room to watch Match of the Day. Then it'd be off to bed with you.
In the morning there'd be whatever breakfast you could keep down. You'd have to eat that early because there'd be another feed of pasta and chicken a few hours before the game.
Some lads would go to mass too. Then it'd be on to the bus. That was the worst part for me. No matter how many finals I played in it never changed. The last two hours were hell.
In my head a battle would be raging. I'd be asking why I was putting myself through this?
And I'd be thinking about getting off the bus, walking home and letting it all go to hell.
That would pass, though. You'd run out the tunnel and two minutes in it felt like every other game. Honestly you could be playing below in Gallarus.
And in that moment, all the build-up and the preparation and the worrying just fades away.