The letter, the pillows, the contract

1. Eamonn Fitzmaurice and the letters

On the morning of last year’s All-Ireland final, Kerry footballers woke to find a personal letter handwritten by their manager pushed under their rooms in the Dunboyne Hotel. Taking the idea from Jake White, Fitzmaurice told this newspaper last September: “I didn’t want to be doing it for the sake of doing it. I spoke to Diarmuid (Murphy) about it on Saturday and he felt the personal touch, epsecially some of the younger lads, would be huge for them.”

2. Joe Kernan and the

shattered plaque

At half-time in the 2002 All-Ireland final and with Armagh trailing Kerry by four points, Kernan delivered a stirring speech. Producing his loser’s plaque from the 1977 final, he smashed it against a wall before producing an All-Ireland winners medal, which had been bought at an auction. Kernan was excellent at finding ways of inspiring his men, be it secret symbols on jerseys or producing a life-size cut-out of Ciaran Whelan with the Sam Maguire Cup.

3. Jim McGuinness and the contract

The agreement signed by players has been derided in the main since Kevin Cassidy revealed it in the book “This Is Our Year” almost as much as McGuinness’ practice of taking players’ phones on match-days. That said, McGuinness appreciated that to put Donegal on a course different from the middling path they had trod for years something drastic was needed. The contract was the ultimate buy-in. By putting pen to paper, the commitment was copper-fastened.

4. Liam Griffin and the bus

Prior to the 1996 Leinster final, the Wexford manager stopped the bus on the border of Wexford and Wicklow and address his players. “Today we are playing for a way of life,” he said. “Breathe in now, long and hard and as you walk, think of yourself since childhood, of all the matches you played, all of your friends both alive and gone, and make this promise to yourself. Today is the day we will be proud again. And remember: ‘We are the boys of Wexford who fought with heart and hand’. That’s real tradition. Let’s go!”

5. Derek McGrath and the pillows

It didn’t happen in the championship but McGrath’s piece of psychology prior to De La Salle’s 2007 All-Ireland colleges final worked a treat. Taking his lead from the TV show “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”, McGrath encouraged the parents of the players to record messages of support for their children. The video was shown in the team’s Castleknock Hotel the night before the game but later that evening they slept on their own pillows and duvets from home.

6. Joe Kernan and the Muhammad Ali letter

The Crossmaglen man again appears in our list having managed through his connections to get the great boxer to write a letter to the Armagh team. Like Kerry last year, Armagh players woke on the morning of the 2002 All-Ireland final to discover envelopes pushed under their hotel rooms. “Absolutely amazed,” was Aidan O’Rourke’s reaction.

7. Mickey Harte and the national anthem

Nobody appreciated or harnessed the power of Amhrán Na bhFiann more than the Tyrone manager. In 2003 prior to the All-Ireland semi-final against Kerry, he encouraged his players to learn the song properly. He recalled in his book “Presence Is The Only Thing”: “How unusual would it be for a bunch of bucks from the north, with minimal grasp of the Irish language to end up in Croke Park singing Amhrán na bhFiann with perfect musical and linguistic accuracy. A week before we met Kerry, we stood in a room in Citywest (hotel) , singing Amhrán na bhFiann with a ferocity and pleasure that lifted all our hearts. In a week we would stand together in Croke Park again and sing our anthem without missing a word.

8. Davy Fitzgerald and Shane O’Donnell

Knowing if he told him he was starting he would be wrought with anxiety, Fitzgerald told the 19-year-old he was starting in the 2013 All-Ireland final replay just a couple of hours before throw-in. “I only told him at 2.50pm today so he hadn’t too much time to worry about the nerves,” said Fitzgerald. “I rang him the last few days and said ‘you’re probably going to come on at some stage ‘ and we decided just to keep it from him.” The rest became history, O’Donnell scoring three goals in a man of the match performance.

9. Mickey Harte and the team CD

Like Kernan, Harte appears twice in our list with good reason. His late daughter Michaela would have made cassettes and tapes for the Tyrone minor team he was in charge of but they came up with the idea of every player contributing to a CD to be played on the team bus. A copy of the CD was given to them all too.

10. Liam Sheedy and the handshakes

If Tipperary had won the 2009 All-Ireland final the manager’s elaborate attempt to prepare his players for the county’s first final in eight years would have been remembered as a master-stroke. They almost did but Sheedy was determined to ensure his men wouldn’t be overawed by the occasion and so piped in crowd sounds into Semple Stadium the week before. Imitating the President, he also shook the hands of his players.

The majority of motivational initiatives fail. If that wasn’t true then everybody would win, wouldn’t they? Dublin’s Blue Book in 2008 is arguably the greatest example of an idea that has backfired but several techniques worked. Here’s the 10 best measures managers have taken to encourage their teams over the line


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