Tuesday 21 November 2017

Brendan Cummins: Tipp’s bid for immortality will fail if they fall into trap of old and take eye off the ball

Ryan: Tipp boss primed for Cork. Photo: Sportsfile
Ryan: Tipp boss primed for Cork. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

It's the Tuesday night before we play Cork in the 2010 Munster quarter-final. Having run Kilkenny so close in the previous year's All-Ireland final, we're odds-on favourites to make it back to Croke Park in September.

It's Liam Sheedy's third year in charge and this is our year. This is our mindset.

After training, one of the lads asks me not to swap jerseys with a Cork opponent after the game.

He wants mine for a friend of his. I don't see an issue with this and reply: 'No problem.'

Five days later, we lose by ten points at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and when I sat down on the Monday to reflect on why everything had gone so wrong, and the factors that fed into our flat performance, the jersey issue gnawed at me. Eye off the ball.

It was a little thing but when you give six months of your life preparing for a championship opener, that work can be derailed by mental weakness in the days leading up to it.

The disillusioned supporter in the stand wonders what on earth happened during those 70 minutes, why were they stuck to the ground? 

Players ask the same questions but when they honestly reflect, they realise they've made poor decisions in those crucial days before the match - sometimes without even realising it.

Any time we were flat during my career, there was always a reason. It could be as big as a discussion around a planned night out after a game or as small as that jersey swap. Eye off the ball.

The successful teams looking to create legacies deal with those challenges better than others, and the hope for every Tipperary person in Thurles next Sunday is that the mental filters have worked, that this team's DNA is different.

Of course, all players have no choice but to meet people every day before a game. I used to nod politely when hurling talk struck up but the ability to do that was as important to me as any striking drill in training.

But in my mind, I was in the pre-match team huddle, when all you see are the burning eyes of your team-mates moments before battle.

I had to take myself there. And if any conversation took a negative tone, I'd tell this person, in my head, that what you're going to see on Sunday will blow your mind.

If things were right, chatting with people wasn't an issue. But when they weren't, I'd have to work harder to block out what was being said to me.

Michael Ryan's biggest challenge for the next six days is to ensure that their business is conducted in an air-tight environment.

They're All-Ireland champions but the county hasn't won back-to-back titles since 1964/65. Why? It's a complex question.

When you get to the top of the hill, you can often feel, subconsciously, that you've arrived. But the more sacrifices you make and the quality of your attention to detail will determine whether you'll succeed again.

The distractions have been greater for these players since last September. When you win an All-Ireland, the lure of social media can be more difficult to ignore.

You're letting people into your life and you're fielding more requests to promote various products. Everybody wants a piece of you and that's a mental drain.

The danger is that you lose a piece of yourself, and some of the drive that made you the animal you were last year.

The players and teams who can sacrifice their lives, even more, for the greater prize are the ones who have the best chance of retaining All-Ireland titles.

They don't make the same mistakes that I saw, and avoid the old, familiar traps.

I often wonder should I have said more, or spoken up when I noticed that standards were slipping.

Ahead of a new season, Tipp are raging hot favourites next Sunday; even Cork supporters acknowledge that.

That brings expectation but this is hurling after all, and anything can happen.

Still, next Monday morning's headlines will be written by Tipperary, either way. That power is in their hands.

If they lose, the glass half full brigade will say it's a good opportunity to go through the back door, which it ultimately was in 2010.

The glass half empty crowd will nod and think 'that's the end of that, sure they were never good enough anyway.'

Since Adam was a boy, that's how it's always been.

But that Monday morning narrative depends on the little things. Forget about where you might be going for the few drinks on Sunday night, forget jersey swaps.

Get yourself mentally right for 4pm, and the rest should take care of itself.

Irish Independent

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