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Secrets of a winning mentality

THE Tyrone footballers circa 2008. The Tipperary hurlers in 2010. And the Dublin footballers this year. Three outfits that went the All-Ireland distance, toppling heavyweight rivals in the final. But can you spot the common denominator?

The answer is one Caroline Currid.

In a former life, Currid was an inter-county ladies footballer with Sligo who, having recovered from a serious cruciate ligament injury sustained in 2005, was on the panel that finally achieved All-Ireland junior glory at the third time of asking in 2006.

Nowadays, however, she is best known as a sports psychologist to the stars – although she prefers the term performance coach.

She has worked with Ireland rugby legend Paul O’Connell, but it’s her recent strike-rate with high-profile GAA squads that will make even the most strident head-shrink sceptic question his/her ingrained cynicism. Tyrone in ’08 was her first inter-county gig: they duly reclaimed Sam Maguire from the vice-grip of a hat-trick chasing Kerry.

She enlisted with Tipp the following year (when they lost an epic All-Ireland final to Kilkenny) and was still there 12 months later when Liam MacCarthy returned to the Premier after a nine-year break. Pat Gilroy had already introduced her to the Sky Blue fold that season, and this two-year partnership came to glorious fruition last September.

Dublin hadn’t reached the pinnacle since 1995, so Currid’s biggest challenge could be distilled down to one word. “It’s belief, really,” she told the Evening Herald. “When it's not happening, year after year, you question ‘Is it going to happen for us? Can we cross this line?'

“It's one thing about Gilroy,” she adds, “and he has to be admired for his ruthlessness in that sense – that he instilled belief in these guys.

“That's the reason he brought me in as well, to help him on that journey, and help instil the belief in the guys so that they would then take over that belief. We can't do anything once they cross that white line.”

Clearly, a key part of the Currid jigsaw is that she fully immerses herself in the set-up. When Dublin were embarking on their famous ‘dawn run’ training sessions last January, she was there with them.

“It doesn't work if these guys are coming in for one or two or three sessions in a season,” she explains.

“I'm one of them. As the lads do say, they adopted me. I go to their training, I go to their games, if they're going away for the weekend I go with them.

“I travelled with them everywhere last season and the season before. The same with Tipperary and the same with Tyrone.”

While group sessions play a role in bringing a squad together as a unit, far more progress is made through monthly one-to-one meetings. This is where players open up, tell you what’s going on, be it issues in their home life or whatever.

The overall objective is to clear a player’s mind of negative clutter, getting him to focus on the controllables and playing in the here-and-now.

“Sometimes players focus on what they don't want to happen, as opposed to what they want to happen. I think we're in a culture, in this country, certainly, that we tend to focus on the negative and stuff that we have little control over, as opposed to thinking about what we want to happen and what we can control, which is our performance,” she outlines.

“When you focus on the result, you have gone into the future tense,” Currid expands.

“You have gone into the end of the game. And when you come out of the present tense, your sub-conscious takes over and your body could get crippled with pressure, it could get crippled with stress.

“When you're in the present moment, your body is fully relaxed and you're just in that moment – you are ‘next ball, next ball, next ball'.

“People call it in the zone, in their bubble, relaxed ... so many different words. If you trust you have the work done, you will stay in the present moment.”

Back in ’05, when Currid tore her cruciate, her career was banking, working with MBNA in Carrick-on-Shannon. Up to that point she was, by her own description, a “nervous player” who always put pressure on herself to perform.

But that long lay-off proved a watershed period in her life. She sought out a sports psychologist to help her back from injury; she started devouring books about sports psychology and the mindset. “I just engrossed myself in it,” she says.

She studied psychology through the Open University and has subsequently completed her Masters in sports psychology at Jordanstown.

In her new career, she has been “very fortunate” to work with three GAA managers – Mickey Harte, Liam Sheedy and Gilroy – who have been “massive advocates for the mindset”. Otherwise, her job “really wouldn’t work”.

It remains to be seen if she’ll be working with Dublin next season; Gilroy has yet to finalise his backroom team but she’ll be sitting down with him in the new couple of weeks.

Either way, she describes Dublin’s next challenge as a “phenomenal” one because no football team bar Kerry has achieved back-to-back All-Irelands in the last two decades.

“The belief is now there that they are good enough, and it's well within their capabilities if they put in as much ... you need to put in more effort now,” she clarifies.

“Pat will freshen it up. He will find different ways – he's one of the most innovative managers I've ever worked with.”

p Punters will have a chance to hear Caroline |Currid’s gospel of positivity when the ‘Lean on Me - To Win’ roadshow, promoting positive mental health, visits the Hilton Dublin Airport Hotel next Tuesday and the Radisson Blue St Helen’s, in Stillorgan, on Wednesday. Former Dublin captain Paul Griffin will also speak at the events, which are free of charge, but pre-registration is required with more info available on www.leanonme.net.