Kerry need to embrace sports psychology, says Darran O'Sullivan

The former captain reckons they would have won more in the 2000s if they’d just bought into Jack O’Connor’s efforts to improve their mental conditioning
Kerry need to embrace sports psychology, says Darran O'Sullivan

30 November 2020; Glenbeigh/Glencar and former Kerry footballer Darran O'Sullivan at the launch of AIB's The Toughest Season photobook.

Darran O’Sullivan believes Kerry management teams have consistently neglected the area of sports psychology and ultimately paid a high price. 

The former captain reckons they would have won more in the 2000s if they’d just bought into Jack O’Connor’s efforts to improve their mental conditioning.

As for Kerry’s recent surprise defeat to Cork in the Munster championship, ending their campaign, he said there’s ‘no doubt in my mind they were looking ahead’ and weren’t fully focused. 

The League title holders and 2019 All-Ireland runners up lost a dogfight and O’Sullivan believes they ‘probably thought, “Ah look, they’ll give us a bit of a scare, we’ll pull away, we have enough talent”.’

“I am no expert but I genuinely believe that’s something we have been lacking for a while,” said the four-time All-Ireland winner. 

“We dabbled in it. It was Jack O’Connor who brought it in first and that’s going back a long time.

“Of course, we were a bit more old school then and he was kind of laughed out the door. Jack was the first one that brought it in and we just didn’t buy into it. I genuinely believe if we had, and I heard Tadhg Kennelly saying it recently, that even though we had great success in the 2000s, we should have had more. 

I genuinely believe, and it’s easy to say now, hindsight is a fine thing, and it wasn’t something I was into either, I thought it was pure old rubbish. I bought into since and I believe we would have had more success in the noughties if we had bought into that side of things.”

Kerry manager Peter Keane is expected to make changes to his backroom team for 2021, including appointing a replacement for Donie Buckley who quit his coaching role last March. O’Sullivan would like to see a full-time sports psychologist added.

“I don’t know if it’s that kind of a nostalgia thing or a romantic thing that we just do things (our way), you go on the field and you kick the ball and you play football but that’s not the way the game is anymore,” he said. 

“There’s so much more to it than that. I think there are boxes that we’re not ticking.

“We’ve dabbled with it (sports psychology) but never really stuck at it where you had somebody and it was part of your routine and it was part of your monthly or yearly training plan that we spent time with the sports psychologist.

“With the demands on players outside of football and obviously we talk about the pressure of not winning an All-Ireland, I do think it’s an area where we’re lacking. I do think it’s an area where Dublin are strong.

“If you look at all their games, how many All-Irelands have Dublin won by more than three or four points? Not many. That’s down to their mental toughness. You can say physically that maybe we weren’t as fit as them or as fast, I think that’s bullshit. My thing is, if you’re mentally strong you don’t get tired, you come into it then.”

O’Sullivan puts the Cork defeat down to a ‘bad day at the office’ and believes the players are ‘ready to go’ for 2021 despite rumours of dissatisfaction with the management and of a possible heave against Peter Keane.

“They are not that type of fellas, they are after sacrificing how many years for Kerry,” said O’Sullivan of ‘pathetic’ gossip about certain players pushing for a heave. “They are not going to put Kerry through the ringer and make them look like they are a shitshow for the sake of getting rid of a manager.”

* AIB has launched The Toughest Season - A year like no other in Gaelic Games. Proceeds from the sale of the photobook will go to AIB’s partner charities; Age NI, Alone, FoodCloud, Soar, and Pieta.

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