Thu, Feb
13 New Articles

No yesterday just now

Kevin McStay

Heaney team parade

No yesterday,
no tomorrow,

mcstay_kevin_thumb EVER wonder how the players while away All-Ireland football final week? I know times change and preparation is more advanced than the late 80s but the weekend of a big match still concerns itself with a few basic matters that players need addressed: you have to get to Dublin, you need a bed to sleep in when you get there, a bite to eat and a lift to the game itself. It will probably always be so.
I thought it might be interesting to go behind the scenes and outline the type of build-up each player will face as the week closes in on the weekend. Of course it will be a little different for all the players; some will be heading into their first final and for others, they are old sweats at this stage.
The first matter you will want to sort out is the ticket situation. These days the GAA is pretty good about this and the County Board will generally row in with a few too. The majority will be complimentary and the option of purchasing is there too. Every player will avail of this option!
Family and friends are catered for and then the two laws of ticket distribution kick in. Law 1: There are never enough tickets to go around. Law 2: You will always get a ticket if you try really hard enough. Reads like a contradiction but immutably true.
Despite Law 2, any fan that approaches a player for a ticket in the week of an All-Ireland final is inconsiderate. People will though, because they become desperate. If only they realised the pressure players are under at that stage. Apply Law 2 but not here.
A player should become more selfish than normal as a big match approaches. He must lock out of his mind and diary the insignificant events that accompany the match – TV, radio, the papers and the opinions of supporters. Once the weekend arrives, it will be blanket coverage and the player needs to be living in his own bubble by then.
A player will carry serious kit and equipment for the All-Ireland weekend. Clothes for the Saturday and Monday, the squad suit and, of course, two kit bags; one for the training on Saturday or Sunday morning and the bag for the real McCoy.
Mobiles off then as we enter the team bus at lunch-time on the Saturday. Or indeed, the train. Walkmans, iPods or hand-held games kill time on the journey. Or a chat with your buddy about what lies ahead.
The journey out of the county and across the province is great. The flags and colours are everywhere and then they begin to get less frequent when you cross the Shannon. A stronghold here and there as you enter Meath.
The messages of good luck and flags on the flyovers signal your arrival into Dublin and the bus heads for the secret hotel location. You have arrived.
Mass was usually on the Sunday morning but these days many squads stop off in Maynooth or Lucan for the Saturday evening mass on the way up. The summer mantra might be: ‘If it is to be, it is up to me’ but be assured we all ask for the extra inches from the Man Above.
The team meeting can be that night or sometimes the next morning, it all depends on the routine management and players are comfortable with. Either way, it will be emphasised that a big event lies ahead and it demands every ounce of effort. Last minute match-ups are discussed and some players might say a few words. But all the detail is long since attended to back in Mayo.
The players head off in small groups to keenly focus on the message from the meeting; a short walk usually and then the kit is loaded. In my time a few of us wrote out the goals and objectives we planned to achieve later that day.
They had been worked on between semi-final and final and included things like: score three points from play, be involved in a goal, generate three assists, get three blocks in, make ten tackles, no wides, no technical fouls and so on.
It had to be realistic and helped keep your mind on the job as the match progressed. How much have I achieved? Am I letting this game pass me by? I put my list under the pillow on the Saturday night and read it for the last time on the bus journey in. I did not tick all the squares but we all felt they helped.
Soon the Gardai arrive and it is time to load up, put on your six-shooter and head for town. The use of this imagery is appropriate for the game is essentially, a shoot-out. Man against man, men against men. Management might have a compilation tape or DVD specially commissioned and you listen and watch the soothing moments.
The bikers speed you to the venue clearing junctions and traffic lights so that you get the full VIP treatment. The two teams are what this day is all about. The rival fans are having a jar on the streets of Dublin and the roar goes up as they spot their boys heading for Croker. The local sheriffs are coming, there is a buzz in the air and the noise and anticipation of all is obvious.
Before you know it you are in the spacious warm-up room and the togs and socks are on. Soon the boots will be too and then the jersey you have worked so hard for is slipped over your shoulders. Game face on, last words of encouragement.
On the biggest sporting day in the life of our small nation, in front of 82, 500 people, you are chosen to be centre stage.
Somebody knocked on the door and said it was time. We raced out of the old dressing room under the junction of the Hogan and Canal End, out the tunnel to a sea of Green and Red. The noise was like that of storm waves crashing against the rocks and for a minute I was disorientated.
Seventeen years later, I remember every detail of that day: keeping your head down on the parade so you don’t see family. Thinking this is my team’s best ever chance and we must not leave a stone unturned.
Listening to the anthem but thinking only of the first ball that will come into my corner. Running and racing for every ball as if your life depended on it. And all against the soundtrack of a ticking clock.
Next Sunday 30 Mayo men are afforded this fantastic opportunity. To race out that tunnel again. It must not be taken for granted. No yesterday, no tomorrow, just now.
How I wish we could wind back the clock.