Posted by Mickey Harte
Friday 14 September 2012
It is a momentous occasion within any county the build-up to an All-Ireland final and it’s probably more of a novelty in Donegal at the moment because it’s 20 years since they’ve been in the final.
Mayo have been in these finals five times since then so the frenzy will possibly be more of a distraction in Donegal than it will be in Mayo.
Donegal have only ever been in one All-Ireland final and in many ways they have been on a roll since last year, following up the progress they have made by going one step further this year. You could see the flags being raised around the county even before the Ulster final and as they’ve gone through the summer it just seems to have built up even more every week.
There’s huge excitement in Donegal and that was evidenced by the number of people that attended the semi-final. That’s something the players will have to detach themselves from and it will take as much out of Jim McGuinness and his backroom team to do that as it will to actually prepare the team for the game.
And however much they try to remove themselves from that excitement they will know what’s going on. We’ve already seen the songs that have been released and then you have this video on YouTube of the guy singing with his friend from Senegal, which is great fun but a huge distraction to the players.
There’s a lot to manage but McGuinness is capable of it and he has already shown that he can keep these guys’ feet on the ground. They will work through the programme of work that he sets out for them, as they have done for the past couple of seasons.
The key for us -- and it seems to be the same for Donegal now -- was the belief within the squad that nothing was impossible. It didn’t matter about history or tradition or how highly rated were the sides we met. The only important thing for us was to believe we could be the best team in the country.
That filters through to all players. It was a cumulative effect over time where we played to a high level, achieved success, and then believed anything was possible. I think that’s Donegal’s frame of mind at the moment. They’ve climbed steadily and built on previous success, making the leap from beaten semi-finalists last year to finalists now.
There’s no blanket way for the manager to deal with players in the build-up to these games. You must understand that you’re dealing with individual players so it has to be a logical approach. Players deal with pressure in different ways and it’s up to the management to identify what’s working for one player or what’s annoying someone else.
It’s very much a one-to-one process, rather than expecting the whole group to react in precisely the same way. I’ve no qualification in psychology but then but I’ve got 57 years of a qualification in the psychology of life and when you’re as old as I am and have met as many people as I have, or read as many books, that’s the best way to learn.
I like to study coaches and managers of other sports to pick up bits and pieces that work for them and then try to mould it into something that will work for me. I think it’s as important to be aware of the need to be able to connect with players as it is to be able to implement gameplans.
It was vital for us in 2003 to get the mentality right because we were up against a traditional power. What helped us was that we met Kerry in the semi-final rather than the final so it was less daunting. We showed that you can beat the traditional teams if you approach it in the right way.
So when we met them in the final in 2005 it was no big deal for the players. There was no sense of awe about who we were up against. In fact, it may have been the opposite, with Kerry feeling they had something to prove.
They had to show that they could handle the kind of energy and intensity we brought to the game. There was no doubt in our mind that we could beat them again. We also felt so well prepared for that game given that we had played so many times that year. It was a real advantage for us going into what was our tenth game of the summer.
A lot of people talk about Peter Canavan’s role that day. He wasn’t fit to last the full 70 minutes but we wanted to have him on the field at the start of the game and at the final whistle. I spoke to Peter about his role in the week before the final and we spoke about what it would do even for the crowd alone, that it would give them a sense of calm to see him in the starting line-up.
It took away any apprehension and we agreed that he would play as long as he could, come off, and then return at some point in the second half. It’s something we had done before and this was as much a psychological ploy as it was a practical one.
You want your best finisher on at the start because often that’s when little mistakes happen and you want someone like Peter there to capitalise on that. You also want the player who’s got the nerves of steel to take those early free-kicks in a game.
We knew we had to find the best way to accommodate him and it worked out for us. There are always different things to think about as the big day approaches but that’s all part of the intrigue of All-Ireland finals and it will be the same for Mayo and Donegal.
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