PSYCHOLOGY in sport is one of those things that players will either embrace wholeheartedly or question suspiciously.
Unlike bleep or V02 max testing that provide you with figures to reflect your current physical fitness, without the stats to back it up mental fitness is far more difficult to quantify.
Ten points to the good with just over 20 minutes to play in their Leinster semi-final, Meath's collapse wasn't as a result of some major act of tactical wizardry from Westmeath boss Tom Cribbin, but rather reflected two vastly differing psychological perspectives.
Westmeath clearly felt that you may as well 'be hung for a sheep as a lamb', so rather than thinking about going after Meath they simply reverted to hard-work and playing off the cuff as they tore into Meath's lead with wave after wave of attack that their talismanic forwards Kieran Martin, having been moved up front, and John Heslin clinically fed-off.
Sensing that a Leinster final spot was virtually guaranteed, Mick O'Dowd's men on the other-hand fell into a malaise of complacency where suddenly the things that they were effecting so naturally became over-thought, as fear and doubt took hold and resulted in players, particularly over the concluding five minutes when they could at least have drawn the game, taking wrong options when in front of goal.
With Dublin now on the horizon and facing into their first Leinster final since 2004, the problem facing Westmeath is how do they go about trying to scupper the Dubs quest for a five in-a-row of provincial titles?
In the opening half against Meath they tried to deploy a sweeper, a role Martin fulfilled for a period. However, he was far more effective at the other end of the field, reflected in the fact that within the opening six minutes the entire Meath full-forward line had scores on the door, culminating in a contribution of 2-7 of their half-time total of 2-12. If they opt to go gung-ho, as their captain Ger Egan suggested in an interview earlier in the week, and take Dublin on in a shoot-out, the space in front of their full-back line will leave them seriously exposed to a forward division that could hit a massive score if they have their shooting boots with them.
The talk from the midlands county has focused, as you would expect, on them coming to Croke Park to 'get a result', but the two-week lead in time to the final means that putting in place a successful defensive system that will constrict Jim Gavin's team's attacking capabilities is highly unlikely.
As was proven against Meath championship football can often throw up some remarkable results, but in reality if Dublin max out on their mental preparation the silverware should reside once more in the capital, and the bigger prize for Gavin and Co will be a safe passage to an All-Ireland quarter-final in August.
IN the aftermath of Armagh’s Ulster championship game with Cavan last summer, when the Orchard County were hit with what they deemed to be unfair suspensions for their part in a pre-match melee, then manager Paul Grimley and his team enforced a widespread media ban that required a brokering deal from Croke Park to help thaw the freeze.
Last weekend following their morale-boosting victory over the same opposition, Roscommon manager John Evans launched a staunch defence of his team across a number of media platforms, believing that the win had silenced the critics that had circled in the aftermath of their Connacht semi-final loss to Sligo.
Posting 3-17 was certainly a massive fill-up for the Rossies and is a fair reflection of the potency they offer in attack. But the concern I have as they head to Brewster Park for their third round qualifier game with Fermanagh, is that the feel-good factor and proving critics wrong agenda could blindside the team, when they should instead be focusing on the defensive frailties that Cavan managed to expose a number of times last Saturday evening.
Throughout the first-half when Cavan had the full complement (prior to Tomás Corr’s dismissal), despite almost owning the ball, Roscommon’s defensive cordon failed to sweep back around their full-back line thus leaving plenty of space for Cavan to play around in. The concept of bringing half-forwards back the field is to have them put pressure on the ball-carriers, and to restrict the time and space when the opposition are in possession.
Far too often Roscommon had numbers back, but no pressure on the ball, and Cavan were able to pick holes and cause problems, despite the fact that their full-forward line lacked the cutting edge that Ultan Harney offered at the other end of the field.
The fact that the feed from their underage success is starting to blossom in senior shirts demonstrates the potential that exists in the group, but as the number of contenders continues to dwindle en-route to the Bank Holiday weekend in August, their defensive system needs some serious fine tuning if they hope to follow through on their manager’s vision of bringing Roscommon football to the top of the pile.