Every team starts out a year with targets and goals.
Most will measure themselves on silverware and winning games but the biggest challenge is actually mapping out how you are going to achieve these goals and what steps need to be taken to get there. Before you start working out how to get there, you have to work out where there is. You should be ambitious but you must be realistic.
Yesterday in Croke Park, in the biggest GAA game any club player will experience, St Brigid’s gave an incredible display over 60 minutes that bore the hallmark of a team with total belief in the steps they’d mapped out for their journey — and precisely what was required of each and every individual involved.
In his interview afterwards, man of the match Karol Mannion mentioned how this has been a three-year journey after being beaten in the 2011 final. It is a testament to the players that they regrouped to continue to drive towards their ultimate goal.
Top club teams are getting ever more like inter-county in their training and preparation. They spend hours on the pitch and in the gym trying to improve their skill and strength levels to help perform to their maximum. To achieve that, you also need to train your mind and put time into making sure that you are in a state to be able to back up all the physical work. There are many ways to do this: sports psychologists, mental coaches, ex-players who will all have different ways of challenging a player mentally. It’s also important to remember the many different types of characters that make up a team; what works for some guys mightn’t work for others so you need to find a balance that is of most benefit to your team.
The biggest satisfaction Brigid’s can take from yesterday’s thrilling All-Ireland final was how they reacted to a nightmare start. Before they had time to settle, Ballymun had two goals and were playing all the football. Many teams in this situation wouldn’t cope but there was no panic and players began to play themselves into the game. To be able to do this shows a huge amount of mental strength within the team, particularly the leaders like Mannion, Frankie Dolan and Senan Kilbride. Other players would look to these guys and realise that if they were doing everything as planned in the build up to the game, it would have reinforced it for them to keep doing the same.
At half-time, they’d have discussed how they had taken the best Ballymun had to offer and how they’ve come through similar tight games over the past three years and have created a habit of coming out on top.
Brigid’s also had the advantage of previously playing as a team in Croke Park, being able to draw on that past experience to understand how the game and pace of it would change in the last 15 minutes in the open spaces. That may sound strange considering Ballymun have a number of guys who would have played in Croke Park with their county teams but being in there as a club team is very different. Ballymun are an incredibly fit team but where they were finding success in the first half delivering early ball into their forwards, that was less the case as the game wore on. Ball wasn’t sticking in there and it seemed some of their players were waiting for someone else to be the one who demanded the ball and took responsibility to work a score and push them on.
In that frantic last 10 minutes where both teams were going all out and every play felt like the game was going hinge on it, more Brigid’s players who wanted the ball in their hands and believed that they would make the right decisions in such a high pressure situation. Frankie Dolan was the ultimate hero but the fact his team-mates continued to do the simple things and stuck to their game plan allowed him that last chance.
It was a triumph for belief, perseverance and an ability to stick to those steps they would have identified all along. The ultimate way to get there.
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