Thursday 20 September 2018

Battle cries being drafted ahead of career-defining dates with destiny

Captains and coaches divulge their secrets to success as they bid for ladies silverware

Captains, Annie Moffatt of Dunboyne, left, and Aoife Keating of Kinsale, with the Ladies All-Ireland Intermediate Club Trophy during a LGFA All-Ireland Club Finals Captain’s Day at Croke ParK this week. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Captains, Annie Moffatt of Dunboyne, left, and Aoife Keating of Kinsale, with the Ladies All-Ireland Intermediate Club Trophy during a LGFA All-Ireland Club Finals Captain’s Day at Croke ParK this week. Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

In the pivotal moments before the biggest games, what's the right thing to say to your team-mates? Should you stoke the flames of their emotions with a speech about where they've come from and what it all means, or is it better to simmer their nerves with a set of calm, clear instructions?

Ahead of this weekend's All-Ireland ladies club football finals, that's a question the various captains and managers have been pondering.

For Bríd O'Sullivan, who is hoping to lead Mourneabbey to their first senior title in tomorrow's decider, the best approach is a calm one.

"Nerves are good to an extent and it's obviously an excellent achievement to get there, but I prefer to think of it as just another match rather than a big final," she says.

"I say to them to keep calm and go out and play. Football is a simple game so go out and enjoy it."

She may be the captain, but O'Sullivan encourages an open forum in those final few minutes before her team take the field.

"Whether it's the youngest or oldest player," she says, "if you've something to say that'll help us win, you need to say it."

Mourneabbey manager Shane Ronayne believes his captain's approach could be pivotal tomorrow in helping them across the line after two final defeats in the past three years.

"Bríd is very, very calm," he says. "She doesn't get very excited and that comes across to the players. She knows how to relate to different characters and to get them to go out and do their job."

Which, on the biggest days, is easier said than done. After all, many of the players taking the field tomorrow won't have faced such pressure before.

One who will be well used to the spotlight is Cora Staunton, who is looking to carry Carnacon to their sixth senior title.

As far back as 1998, when she captained the side in the county final at the age of 16, she has embraced the chance to deliver a speech before taking the field.

"We have people like me who gee them up and people in our management who calm them down," says Staunton.

"Going into an All-Ireland final, I don't think you need motivation. It's just about getting the key things every individual needs to know - simple things."

Jimmy Corbett, joint-manager with Carnacon, sees first-hand the effect Staunton has on her younger team-mates.

"When she stands up, everyone is probably uptight with fear about what she'll come out with," he says. "But she's very good in how she controls the young girls and they look up to her."

For Laura McEnaney, who will captain Corduff in today's junior decider, the best approach is to block out the size of the occasion.

"Nerves are part of the game but you can't let that take over," she says.

"The saying we've had all year is: play the game, not the occasion."

Their opponents, Aghada, will also contest their first final, and captain Emma Farmer admits the tone of her speech depends on the mood in the dressing-room.

"You have to look at the players," she said. "If they're very nervous, you need to keep them calm and if they're not at all, maybe get them riled up a bit."

Annie Moffatt, who captains Dunboyne in tomorrow's intermediate final, admits that while pressure can cause players to crumble, it can also elevate their game to a new level.

"Nerves are never a bad thing, they give you a kick on the day," she says. "If anything, it's about keeping your head and playing your own game."

Standing in Dunboyne's way tomorrow will be Kinsale, whose captain Aoife Keating believes last year's final defeat will prove all the motivation her team-mates need as they sprint out on the turf in Parnell Park.

"You have that open wound and you don't want a second one of those," she said.

"Last year we started the match in the second half and we really learned that lesson. It's driven us on."

Win or lose, though, captains and managers will be treating their team-mates just the same.

"No matter what happens, they're going to go down the road the same people that they are," says Mourneabbey manager Shane Ronayne. "Fantastic players, fantastic people."

Carnacon v Mourneabbey, Live, TG4, 3.45

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