JOHN MCHENRY: Being smart in competitive cauldron is not always easy

It’s my firm belief if you speak to any parent, they will tell you that there is nothing harder than knowing if you’re making the right decisions all of the time for your young child. But just as that is the case, we must encourage them to take charge of their own lives as they get older.

Bearing that in mind, you will hardly be surprised to learn one of my favourite quotes is: ‘If it’s to be, it’s to be’— by way of giving people more responsibility for their own success — regardless of whatever activity or career they choose to pursue.

During the past couple of months, sports fans have been lucky to witness many remarkable feats, like Jim Furyk becoming the first player in tour history to record multiple record rounds in the 50s — when he surpassed last year’s 59 to become the only player in more than a million and a half competitive rounds on the PGA Tour to record a 58 in August.

And what about the phenomenal performances of Munster when trouncing Glasgow in the Champions Cup, the Chicago Cubs winning the world series after a 108-year drought, or even Ireland losing the “lovable losers” tag last weekend when comprehensively overcoming the All Blacks for the very first time?

All were coming-of-age moments, now confined ever more to the history books, but the realisation of these achievements speaks volumes about good preparation, attitude and a positive mindset.

Remember, Jim Furyk is no Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods. In fact he is not even your prototypical PGA Tour pro. His loopy and unorthodox swing is hardly textbook but no one knows more than the veteran Furyk that his game is all about producing results. At 46, he should be enjoying semi-retirement — but a great mind can keep you competitive, and no one has proven that more than Furyk over the past couple of years.

From Munster’s perspective, they went into the Champions Cup game against Glasgow distracted, largely unprepared and off a comprehensive loss to Leinster a fortnight earlier. Hardly the ideal preparation for Glasgow — and yet they were still able to channel their focus into producing the best performance of the year.

Much like the Chicago Cubs, Ireland too had to overcome a legacy of failure but whereas the Cubs were the favourites to win the final game of the World Series, Ireland overcame the greatest team in test rugby history without some of its most influential stars.

In all of these examples, everyone had to overcome a mental barrier. For Jim Furyk, his started on the 12th hole once he had already got himself to 11 under par and a record score was very much on the cards. For Munster that seminal moment came once Keith Earls was sent off early in the match, for the Chicago Cubs after they blew a three run lead over the Cleveland Indians in the final game — and for Ireland, when they allowed New Zealand back into the game at 33-29 midway through the second half of the match, with history beckoning.

The key in moments like that, for an individual or a team, is to recognise that the situation is more mental than physical — so it is imperative they try to stay out of the way of themselves by staying in the present, by remaining committed and aggressive and by playing smart. That’s not easy when nerves and expectations are so high — especially when you are, for example, an Irish team trying to do what none has accomplished before.

There’s a lot that can be learned from all of these accomplishments, especially Ireland’s big win in Chicago. It’s that anything is possible once you combine the right mindset with excellent tutelage.

It was evident at Soldier Field that Ireland’s young squad, much like the one that toured South Africa in the summer, were prepared for the spotlight. That meant that they had the tools to adjust to the game and to implement their team game plan, which in turn allowed influential players like Conor Murray to express his own natural instincts in high-pressure situations.

That said, Ireland had every motivation to win that game last week. They had everything to gain — whereas it could be argued that after a successful season where New Zealand routed all before them, that they were caught napping — as best reflected by their questionable selections of Jerome Kaino in the second row and the out-of-sorts Aaron Smith at scrum-half.

Rest assured, November 19 will be different, as both teams will now have a real purpose.


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