Bringing in a sports psychologist was a master move by Limerick manager John Allen
It started with an email last summer. Julieanne McAuliffe, a sports psychologist tutor in the Limerick College of Further Education, sent details about her work to John Allen.
The Limerick manager, known as one of the best man-managers in hurling, got in contact and they took it from there.
Having worked with under-age Munster rugby teams as well as Ireland’s male volleyball team, Allen felt she could make a contribution.
A passionate Limerick hurling woman, it’s been a labour of love for McAuliffe and she attributes a lot of the psychology work done in the camp to Allen, a person she believes is excellent at reading people.
The “play for the team”, “winners with desire & belief” and “hard working” motivational pentagon posters dotted around the Limerick dressing room walls last Sunday were all Allen’s doing.
But she’s played her part, speaking individually and collectively with the players.
At the start of this season, McAuliffe sat down with the Limerick panel and they went about putting together a structure to serve the attainment of their aims.
“Before the league, we did work on goal-setting and planning for the season, setting them long, medium and short and how they would go about planning to achieve them.
“Every team in the Championship wants to win but it’s going about having your goals set correctly. It’s grand setting a goal but it’s to plan as how you do it that matters most.
“It’s only been an introduction to sports psychology to them from my point of view and each time I’ve tried to give them something different.
“It’s easy to do that once you know what the group are like and when they are as focussed as they are, like the Limericks guys are.
“A lot of sports psychology is common sense but sometimes you don’t see it in a high-performing team. Trying to break it all down — that’s what sports psychology is about.”
McAuliffe (inset) is the latest in a number of women making a name for themselves in Gaelic games.
In 1996 there was Niamh Fitzpatrick with Wexford’s hurlers and in recent years Caroline Currid has enjoyed success with Tipperary’s hurlers and Dublin’s footballers.
In a bygone era, Allen may never have received the credit for getting inside the heads of the Limerick players. Certainly, it’s only now that Mick O’Dwyer is getting the due praise for his success in that area. “Just because they may not have had the terms or qualifications they were sports psychologists in their own right,” says McAuliffe. “The way they talked to people, the way they knew when to say something and when not to say it.”
Sports psychology simply didn’t have a name but Jim McGuinness’ success with Donegal has been a triumph for the field.
“Up until the last year or two, it was pretty much unknown particularly in GAA,” says McAuliffe. “It was there back in 1996 but very rarely was it used. People, I think, had this preconception about it of someone coming in and having them lying down on the couch and telling their problems.
“That’s what a lot of people thought and even know people say to me, ‘Oh, what’s the pep talk you’re going to give them this weekend’. That’s not really what it’s about.
“The understanding of it, even though it’s getting better, is still not what it should be. But Jim McGuinness and Enda McNulty are really bringing it into the media and giving people a better idea of what it is.”
Hurlers are generally known as having more introvert personalities compared to footballers but McAuliffe doesn’t notice much difference: “With every team, you’ll have players you’ll work with more than others. Some people are willing to go up to you and say ‘can we have a chat?’ But then some won’t and that’s okay because they might take more from the group situation.”
Naturally, she was thrilled last Sunday when Limerick’s 16-year Munster famine was ended but with it will come hype. As nobody needs to be reminded, Limerick’s hurlers weren’t protected all that well from the hysteria that enveloped the county ahead of the 2007 All-Ireland final. McAuliffe doesn’t anticipate a team under Allen will suffer the same pitfalls.
“John has done a lot on that and preparing the guys and not letting them run away from themselves. It was about Tipperary first and as much as they beat them that they had won nothing. Then it was about Cork and a Munster final. The guys are staying grounded now and John has to take plenty of credit.”
As he does for bringing McAuliffe’s expertise into the set-up.
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