Wednesday 21 February 2018

Brendan Cummins: A player can get lost in the sideshows of a final build-up

Logistics people will ensure that pre-match preparations run like clockwork for finalists

Conor Gleeson and Joe Canning tussle during the Allianz League meeting between Galway and Waterford in April Photo: Sportsfile
Conor Gleeson and Joe Canning tussle during the Allianz League meeting between Galway and Waterford in April Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

In the days and weeks leading up to the 2010 All-Ireland final, I didn't notice the requests for signed jerseys and other items. These were coming in from various charities but my sole focus was on winning the All-Ireland title for Tipperary.

That might sound selfish, and I would help out anyone when the job was done, but I had invested my life in the pursuit of another Celtic cross and nothing else mattered. Thankfully, my ambition was realised as we overcame Kilkenny by eight points.

However, in 2011, on the Thursday night before the final, I found myself driving from home after a training session to meet a guy with a signed Tipp jersey for charity.

This was at 11 o'clock at night. It was a nice thing to do but I've asked myself the question ever since - was my head really focused on the game?

I certainly wouldn't have done it 12 months before and my performance in the 2011 final reflected some of the bad decisions that I'd made before it.

I remember being in the warm-up room and word filtered through that the floodlights were going on.

This threw me. In my visualisation work, I'd never factored lights into the equation.

In 2010, I'd said to myself that it didn't matter if it snowed because we'd still beat Kilkenny. But the gremlins were here now - and my mind was slightly scrambled.

Those are the little, added pressures that come with playing in an All-Ireland final.

Since Galway and Waterford won their respective semi-finals, they're now realising that this is the Superbowl for amateur players.

The sideshows and circus can take over your life - if you let them.

The most important figures that Derek McGrath and Micheál Donoghue will have by their sides for the next fortnight are the logistics people.

For us in Tipperary, it was Ger Ryan. He dealt with everything outside of the match itself and his role was to shield players, management and backroom staff from every distraction that popped up along the road to Croke Park.

And distractions can take many forms. Suits have to be sorted and players fitted. You receive new gear bags and tracksuits with the words 'All-Ireland final' emblazoned on them. Such things can make you soft as a player. You might think you've arrived.

Then there's the press night, which has become a more diluted affair for the modern player as managers have become more protective of their assets. The finalists will be looking to get this out of the way as quickly as possible.

Learned

Waterford will have learned a lot from their 2008 experience - because it was a runaway train.

One of their players was even asked in Fraher Field by an interviewer whether he preferred blondes or brunettes.

Some players take those open nights with fans in their stride - but others get spooked by them.

The most important thing is that the group commit to it - and look after each other.

You're going to have 3000 people watching you train and afterwards, you'll be signing autographs and posing for pictures.

This is the last thing that a manager wants to see his players doing - because they're out of his control zone.

Remember that for the last six months, all McGrath and Donoghue have thought about is how to keep their players' feet on the ground, performing well, understanding the process and working as a team. But then you have all of this going on ahead of a final. In truth, it's a nightmare.

You have to remember the unsung heroes in the background too - the wives, girlfriends and partners.

Without their support, the players can't do what they're expected to in front of 80,000 people - perform.

This is where the logistics people come into their own.

On the Thursday night before a final, my suit and gear bag - as well as my wife Pamela's things - were picked up by Ger, loaded into the back of Val O'Gorman's van, and shipped to Dublin.

Val runs the Mister Mister menswear business and he's the guy who fits the Tipperary players for suits.

Players will be pestered for match tickets but some people are more worried about passes for the Sunday night banquet. After all, this is where potential celebrations will be in full swing.

But a player doesn't want to focus on a result - he needs to focus on the process. So, you have all of this stuff going on in the background but the player must stick to what he does best - playing, living life as normal, maintaining a routine, staying grounded.

Above all, he must remember that he's a player, not a supporter.

The logistics people must also coordinate the Monday homecoming.

Again, this is something a player need not concern himself with, but it must be planned properly all the same.

Travelled

Even though we would have travelled by bus to Dublin on the morning of the game, we always came home by train on Monday.

This allowed for timings to be coordinated - and people knew when the team was going to arrive back in Thurles.

The Monday night is special if you've won the final but between now and throw-in on September 3, there needs to be a quick discussion in the group about what's coming.

It must be established in no uncertain terms that 'we're all in this together' and a big sign of togetherness will be evident in the pre-match warm-up, which will have to be vocal and focused.

The older players in each group must look out for the younger ones, to make sure their heads are not stuck up in the stands.

And if a player's nervous, my firm belief is that he's only thinking of himself.

Butterflies are natural, of course, but worry about the fella beside you and that will take the edge off.

My job was to make sure my full-backs looked good. I focused on others and how I could help them to play well.

There's a lot to take in there and for these Galway and Waterford players, they're about to take on the biggest day of their sporting lives.

But they might as well go and enjoy it for what it is.

After all, isn't this what they've dreamed about since they were first brought down to the field in their local club?

That's no chore, surely, and they must never lose sight of that.

They're doing something they love and while the stakes are high, this is what it's all about.

At 3.30pm, however, no logistics man can help them.

Irish Independent

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