A little bit of belief key to reaching the promised land
WHETHER it's the back-door system which gives players more exposure to high-class matches or the levelling of the playing field in terms of preparation and resources, I think you're going to see the dominance of the traditional powers dilute over the coming years.
I've seen it over the course of my career with Sligo. When I started, the attitude in the county was to 'do your best'. If you kept Galway or Mayo to a few points in the Connacht championship, it was seen as a decent year. The mindset was: "Let's not get disgraced, a respectable defeat will do, and we'll forget about football until next year."
That sort of attitude can get so deeply ingrained that you don't even know it's there. Back in 2008, we found ourselves in the Tommy Murphy cup. At official level it was sold to us as a 'great opportunity to win something' or 'a day out in Croke Park'. I refused to play, not out of disrespect to the Murphy family, but because entering a second tier tournament with that sort of attitude will get you nowhere. When you set your sights on something like that, that's all you'll ever achieve -- if you're lucky.
The attitude is different in Kerry. Kerry team expect to win and people expect Kerry to win and that, I think, is their greatest strength.
As a Kerry footballer, you have an in-built confidence whereas other counties have an inferiority complex. Break that complex down and I think you're going to see plenty of new teams put their head above the parapet in the next few years.
Tyrone expect to win now too, but eight years ago they had never won an All-Ireland. Now they are one of the best teams in the country with a seemingly unending production line of talent and that shows how attitudes can be changed in a county.
Some people employ sports psychologists which can be hit or miss. I first came across it in the mid-90s under Mickey Moran. He brought in an Australian friend of his and it opened my eyes to the power of the mind. Under Peter Ford, former Westmeath manager Brendan Hackett came in to do something similar, but on that occasion it didn't really work.
Ultimately that sort of preparation comes from within and, if I'm being honest, we lost this year's Connacht final on a mental level. I feel that if we had played Roscommon on the Monday after we would have beaten them.
We went out and they were doing all the things we had done for the last three matches: getting blocks in and putting their bodies on the line. They were playing us at our own game and, to their credit, they were much better that day.
Down are testament to how far a little bit of belief can bring you. Their tails are up and they play a lovely brand of football. Cork have their own pressure that comes with expectation and that's what took us down in the Connacht final this year.
Whoever can handle that pressure better will be celebrating on Sunday evening.