Brendan Cummins: Hype and ticket demands are part of the final build-up but opposition should be first concern
The weeks leading up to an All-Ireland final must be what it's like being a Premier League player because you're a hot property and everyone wants a piece of you.
John Kiely was right to lay down the law straight after Limerick's semi-final win over Cork by explaining that his players are off limits before the decider. That sets a positive tone for his squad and gets minds focused on the job at hand.
It's no coincidence that Kiely has had all the right answers so far given performance coach Caroline Currid's influence. Having worked with a host of All-Ireland winners and some of the game's greatest minds, she is clearly feeding invaluable information to him.
Issues arise outside of the camp that he cannot control, however. Everywhere you go the All-Ireland final is staring you in the face whether it's the bunting in the local club, good luck signs being erected or people enquiring about any last-minute team news.
Training was always the most comfortable place for me before a big match. It was just a case of getting through the few days until you meet the lads again because when you're with them, you're having great craic. Everyone is giddy and excited.
There's a smile on people's face and positivity oozing from every corner. You train hard but it's satisfying because you know you're one of only two teams left in the championship and it's just about showing up on the day and throwing for the shackles.
Finals are won and lost long before the ball is thrown in, and one of the ordeals which can overwhelm players and leave them wasting unnecessary energy is the ticket fiasco.
Managers remove as many obstacles as possible, but they can't go home with the players. Every player is contacted by their long-lost cousin, who is coming home and hunting for a ticket and this can pile pressure on before you even get to Croke Park.
To supporters, it's an event to be celebrated but to you, it's an All-Ireland final. Making that distinction helps enormously as a player because they will never understand what you're going through to get ready for this day.
Then, there's the open night where you meet well-wishers from all over the county. That's a night to embrace the privileged position you're in - to be representing these people - while there's also the small matter of getting suits fitted for the banquet.
All sorts of things can subtly put you off your game. We always had a table with jerseys to be signed coming up to any big games, but the Thursday before the 2011 All-Ireland final, a fella contacted me to get a jersey signed by the squad.
I got a phone call later asking did I drop the jersey into Cahir on the way home and I went 's***, I forgot.' I turned the car around and met him in Ardfinnan, but that little glitch in my routine knocked me out of kilter in the build-up.
There's no way I would have done that when we were trying to stop Kilkenny's five-in-a-row the year before. I would have said 'no problem, if you can bring the jersey to Thurles, you can wait while it's being signed and take it away.' I wouldn't have bought a jersey, brought it off to be signed and dropped it to him.
Success can create softness. Nicky English regularly asked us before the 2001 All-Ireland final after winning League and Munster titles, "is there softness inside here?". And you'd be defiant against it, itching to prove him wrong.
It struck me as I left Thurles after the All-Ireland semi-final last Sunday that a tweet came out from the account of Joe Canning at 5.15 promoting an energy drink. This was followed by other tweets from the company.
When Galway were chasing their first All-Ireland in 29 years, there isn't a hope that you would have seen that, such is the exposure garnered when you're All-Ireland champions. In Limerick, they care about nothing except bridging that gap of 45 years.
On the week of the All-Ireland final in 2010, I was working in Kilkenny and walking up the street when I saw 'five-in-a-row' t-shirts for sale. All I could think about was 'If I never again do anything in my life, there will be no one wearing one of those things come Sunday evening.'
When you're reigning champions, you back your experience more than you should. That can cost you and things that you didn't want to burden yourself with going into last year's final can be taken on, because you feel you have the experience to deal with it. But you haven't.
Over the course of the last seven or eight months, these Galway players have been doing things they've never done before. Medal presentations, opening shops, kissing babies and everywhere they go someone is patting them on the back.
Kilkenny were masters at not letting weakness set in and Micháel Donoghue will probably be building up the final as a 'test of whether ye have gone soft after winning an All-Ireland'. That sort of language gets your blood boiling and demands a reaction.
It will please Donoghue no end that his players have found a way to get across the line when things aren't going their way. Galway are in a really good place but they can't fall into a comfort zone.
Ten minutes into the game you'll know how you've dealt with the preparation, but the key is to not overthink it. Stick with what has served you well, after that it's all in the lap of the gods.
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