An Cailín Rua
I tried, very hard to write about something that wasn’t football related this week. After all, it’s been a bit relentless recently. Since the start of the summer, really, so why would you want to read any more about it? But since I’ve – unfortunately - thought about little else since August 21, I have little choice but to go down this road again. So you’ll have to put up with it.
A fascinating thing about sport is the impact that external factors – such as the media – may affect how a game plays out. It’s not really scientifically explored, but it’s either afforded huge significance or none, depending on what’s being said about who and by whom. But it’s worth thinking about.
For instance, how important really is the media’s analysis and opinion, or indeed, the opinions of the ordinary Joe and Josephine Soap on the street? One school of thought suggests that players on a team like ours are cocooned; focused solely on their game and on what it takes to win. All external ‘noise’ such as media is drowned out. How true is this? Many retired players will tell you that – sometimes unfortunately – they were aware of what was happening in the media circus, and who was saying what. If negative, some used it to drive them; others were mentally strong enough to block out praise and dampen the hype. Others, less so. Given the nature of Gaelic games, where our players live and work among us, many of them in client-facing roles, it’s unlikely there is any real immunity. Players will probably know the lie of the land and the word on the street and how that information affects them is down to the individual.
Sometimes we forget that athletes don’t just physically perform on a playing field, they think. Their thought processes, cognitive functions, concentration levels – all of which affect decision-making – can have an impact on their game. It’s fair to suggest that what happens off the pitch in the lead-up to a game may have an impact on what happens inside a player’s head – even subconsciously – and therefore on their game. Of course players who operate to what is practically a professional level will, to their credit, have developed their own coaching mechanisms. In this light, it’s easy to see the role sports psychology plays in player preparation.
Influence and idiots
Let’s hope therefore that the likes of the poisonous personal attacks, aimed at our players by a certain Derry columnist on the biggest day in their careers, serve not to demoralise them or plant doubt in their minds, but drive them on. It’s sad to see someone of this stature feel they must sink to such depths to satisfy a craving for attention, but enough on that.
Let’s also not forget the 31st man on the pitch; the referee. In the 2012 final, Lee Keegan picked up a yellow card from Maurice Deegan within ten minutes, following media scrutiny in the preceding weeks. Let’s hope if Maurice is still susceptible to media influence that it’s Mayo who use it to their advantage this time.
What about crowd impact? We urge our supporters to be the sixteenth man, referencing the silence and abandonment of the 2013 final and the fact that so many teams reference crowd support as a driving factor. But does it work?
“Crowds are excellent for getting adrenaline pumping in an athlete,” claims Dr Natalie Newton, an Atlanta-based licensed sports psychologist. “Unfortunately, adrenaline is the last chemical you want flooding your system in any finesse sport.”
It’s arguable whether gaelic football is a “finesse sport”. But in a situation where supporters so desperately want success, it’s not surprising that crowd noise at Mayo games in recent years has increased significantly. We may not be able to control what happens on the field of play, but we can sure take action off it.
Noise levels may or may not influence the action on the field of play. But they do show that no matter what pundits and attention-seeking columnists hurl from the ditches, this county will stand proudly behind these great men – our families, our friends, our colleagues, yet our heroes - long after Saturday’s game is dead and buried. Maigh Eo Abú.