McGeeney: believing is key to achieving
Lilies boss tells Cian Murphy how mindsets win titles
WHEN England won the Rugby World Cup under Clive Woodward in 2003, they based their campaign on a core philosophy called the T-CUP, which stood for Thinking Clearly Under Pressure.
Heavily influenced by Woodward's subsequent account of that victory, entitled 'Winning!', it was a slogan that was adopted and worn on the jerseys of Pillar Caffrey's Dublin as they dominated Leinster under his reign from 2005 to '08.
Now in his fourth year at the helm of Kildare football, Kieran McGeeney knows the T-CUP conundrum is a hurdle his team have still to clear.
If there were those who doubted the credibility of giving the former Armagh captain a shot at inter-county management barely a few months after the sudden end of his playing career, McGeeney has resurrected the Kildare challenge and reached successive All-Ireland quarter-finals and an All-Ireland semi-final last summer.
As he faces into a titanic battle with Meath in a Leinster quarter-final at Croke Park this Sunday, McGeeney says he is more convinced than ever that the key to a breakthrough isn't bound in just skill or fitness -- but belief.
"Based on my experience, getting the mental side right is the big thing," he says. "Obviously there will be ups and downs between counties in terms of technical ability but, in general, I think they are more or less all the same.
"In the bigger counties, like Cork, Kerry and Tyrone, who have nothing but Gaelic football and a lot of clubs to pick from, they have a better chance than counties with only 26 clubs to pick from, and the bigger the population the more chance you have of producing more players.
"If there was a particular coaching method that we all thought is the way to go, we'd all copy it -- but there isn't.
"They don't coach any differently down in Kerry -- but to me they think differently.
"It's the same in Tyrone, where Mickey Harte has completely changed the mindset, and I know it was the same for ourselves in Armagh with Brian McAlinden, and then when Paul (Grimley) and Joe (Kernan) came in. I couldn't say this is what we did at training that was the clincher, but we started to think different, started to talk different, started to act different and then started to play different."
Inexperience has often cost Kildare dearly and poor wides hurt them when they had Tyrone on the rack in 2009. In the semi-final with Down last year, Kildare started well but lost their way after Benny Coulter's goal and ultimately were beaten when a finger-tip pushed Rob Kelly's late free onto the crossbar.
The lessons of two quarter-final losses and a semi-final defeat are painful, but McGeeney reckons that outside the annual heavyweight contenders, it's destined to be a school of hard knocks for emerging teams.
"Ultimately the reason we lost is the same reason as previous years -- because we weren't good enough," he says.
"Yeah, a couple of decisions went against us against Down but we had chances in the first half. It's about making the right decisions.
"In Colm Cooper's first year, he played in an All-Ireland final and you can't give that experience to players. It means the next year the All-Ireland isn't a big deal to him and although he's beaten the next year, he is pushing on for the third year.
"Padraic Joyce and Ronan Clarke are the same, playing in All-Irelands in their first year and it's no wonder their mindset becomes stronger. Stevie McDonnell played in two All-Ireland semi-finals in his first two years and it gives you a great foundation.
"I think it's fair to say that at times we haven't made the right decisions at the right time. That only comes with experience and unfortunately in knock-out competitions that experience is hard to get and can be tough to get compared to other provinces where you are guaranteed a Munster or Connacht final every year.
"The crucial thing is making the right decisions at the right time. I've no doubt players are of a similar technical ability, but mentally, playing in All-Ireland finals year in year out makes you a tougher man upstairs."
A regular visitor to the Kingdom, McGeeney is a huge admirer of the way the passion for football and a subtle belief and confidence is ingrained in young Kerry footballers.
"My girlfriend is from Kerry and when I'm down there you see kids running around and it's all about how good they are going to be playing for Kerry and winning All-Irelands," he says.
"It's all about being champions and the best in the country and I think it's a great attitude to have."
He loathes making predictions about Kildare this year because he is wary of Meath and what they will bring -- especially after the Graham Geraghty storm.
"The two best teams I know to play with their backs to the wall are Crossmaglen and Meath, and they'll come out swinging like nobody else.
"It's impossible to say how close Kildare are. We are probably 10/1 to have a go at Leinster because we have Meath and then the winners of Dublin and Laois on our side, and Wexford, Louth and Westmeath on the other side -- so we are a long shot, and to talk about All-Irelands is dream world.
"We have Meath on Sunday and we will have to be at our ultimate to beat them," he warns.
Injuries, like the long-term loss of Dermot Earley and Peter Kelly to cruciates and short-term loss of Darryl Flynn to ankle ligaments, have placed their resources under pressure, but the Lilywhite boss is full of admiration for his troops.
"They are a good, honest bunch of lads and I hope somewhere along the line they get what they definitely deserve -- but in football you have to go out to earn it. There is no substitute for hard work."