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3 August 2006 Edition

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The Matt Treacy Column - A bit of sports psychology

BY Matt Treacy

Three of the four football qualifiers went as predicted by the bookmakers. Kerry's deploying of Kieran Donaghy as a retro 'Bomber' paid handsome dividends. In Enniskillen Fermanagh inexplicably abandoned their usual game plan in favour of getting down with Donegal and lost a match that was about as aesthetically pleasing as, well, Laois beating Offaly. There had been rumours, put out by would-be Tullamore svengalis it appears, that the Offaly lads had been on the soup after the Dubs match. Maybe try the vodka and red bull the next time boys.

The only surprise came at Pearse Stadium where Westmeath mounted an heroic second half resistance - in which they scored only once in the last half hour but crucially that was a Gary Dolan goal - to outstay Galway. Some of the Galway players' faces bore the expression of men who had visited one of the fortune tellers in Salthill and been told to beware of tricky men in green jumpers. Or that the best way to hit a target at 25 degrees is to aim straight in front of you. Or better still, 25 % in the opposite direction. Or maybe they don't do trigonometry in Jarlath's any more.

With key figures like Joyce and Donnellan having bad days, the rest of the team confirmed the old Vince Lombardi axiom that "confidence is contagious, so is lack of confidence". Not for the first time in the last few years Galway simply folded under pressure.

What would Captain John Taylor have made of it all I wonder?

The Captain is a third generation human cannonball who at least twice each day must face his worst demons and place his life in the hands of a large rocket and a blow-up cushion tastefully decorated in the colours of old Betsy Ross.

I was wondering the same as myself and Ciara watched him about to take his chance in the ring of the circus at Tagoat last Saturday. With the air of a man facing his imminent demise, the Captain solemnly paraded before the audience, pausing quietly every once in a while to point towards the back rows with a wistful yet confident smile as if to say. "Nice knowing you old buddy, we had some times. Say goodbye to Rosie and the kids for me". This would lead people in whose direction he was pointing to look about them in puzzlement. "Do I know this guy?"

We didn't and yet you know we all felt that the Captain was an old friend as, for the last time, he waved to us before entering the mouth of the cannon. Then with a loud bang he was catapulted into the stratosphere only to land safely in the folds of the pneumatic flag. Then, rising gracefully with barely a crease in his tasteful yet understated white rhinestone jumpsuit (mental note: a 'must buy' for weddings and formal occasions), the Captain took our ovation with a deferential modesty.

Even Ciara was impressed although she had been a bit disappointed that the circus had a human cannonball as opposed to a human cannibal as I may have inadvertently informed her.

So what has all this got to do with football, you might say? Psychology man. It's all in the head. If Captain John Taylor does not think that he is going to prevail then he will not have the courage to conquer his inner demons and climb into the dark maw of the cannon. When the Captain pulls down his flier's goggles, he is in the zone.

Of course a lot of that is either common sense or pop psycho-babble but there is something to it. In Pearse Stadium Westmeath thought that they might win if they gave it their best shot. Galway thought that they might lose even if they did. So they didn't bother anyway. Or maybe that's unfair. Some days things just don't go right for you no matter what you do.

Sports psychology is de riguer these days. Even the humblest junior team has a backroom person who has delved into the mysteries of the human mind although frontal lobotomies would probably be the better option in most instances. Recently, one Dublin manager, following a particularly disastrous performance, decided to try and build some mental capital out of the event. So instead of allowing the lads to traipse off to the dressing room, he kept them on the pitch.

As they lay about him in various stages of exhaustion, apathy, sleep, psychosis and semi-drunkenness, he wanted to know how they felt. "Who wants to talk about what happened out there?" Nobody really. "Come on, what do you think happened?" There were a few mumbles about tactics, misplaced passes, needless frees conceded on foot of GBH assaults and so on but he wasn't happy that they were getting anywhere. He had not brought them to a safe place.

"Look lads. Who knows why we were beaten?"

Silence before the world weary corner back raised himself onto one elbow and eyed him. "Because we're shite?"

Captain John Taylor would not have been impressed.

I suspect that sports psychology will not be required to motivate any of the participants at the weekend. Kerry and Armagh will be intriguing. Will Kerry once again put Donaghy on the edge of the square? I suspect not, or at least not for the entire game as pumping high balls in the direction of Francie has never really paid off.

It could be a tight hard game in which scores are hard to come by. If so, both teams will be depending heavily on their inside forwards. In such a scenario a neutral observer would have to slightly favour Armagh.

There is little recent form on which to compare Cork and Donegal, and so little basis for making any confident prediction about the outcome. Donegal have had the tougher path but Cork have the most impressive scalp under their belt. It could come down to which team poses the greater threat up front, and which has the greater stomach for a close fight. Marginally, Donegal.

The hurling semi-final sees Cork take on Waterford in what for the past few years has been one of the defining encounters of the championship. Waterford were the last team to beat Cork, in the epic Munster final of 2004. This year it would seem that they have consciously paced themselves with their eyes firmly on Croke Park in September rather than Thurles in July.

Justin McCarthy has given the likes of Shanahan and Browne, the McGraths and Mullane the time to get themselves right. They know how to beat Cork and at nearly 3/1 are value to derail the three-in-a-row and reach their first final since 1963.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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