‘WHERE has the summer gone?’
It’s a question a sentence most teachers around the country are uttering but of course getting little sympathy for. A teacher myself, the thoughts of going back to work are now a reality, but this time of year also means that it’s All-Ireland final time.
While you and I were perhaps enjoying a few beverages on a night out, soaking up the rays on a foreign holiday or taking it easy one or two many evenings in front of the TV, the women on the inter-county scene were training relentlessly. Many counties may be disappointed they didn’t achieve their Croke Park aim, but there are certainly six teams between junior, intermediate and senior who are currently counting down the days to this Sunday, September 11th.
I can safely and emphatically say that I will show no neutrality in any game on All-Ireland camogie final day as all three teams I will be supporting possess players I have either played with or against.
In the junior decider, Armagh have two girls, Joanne Mallon and Nicola Woods, who are part of my Middletown club and who I train with many times a week. Cork intermediates have girls who I would have played against and with at club level but also played and trained with at senior inter-county level. And of course, the Cork senior team are a bunch of girls who I had the joy of playing with for many years of my life up until 2014. It’s going to be a tantalising affair and based on the excellent All Ireland semi-finals we had the pleasure of witnessing, it should be a special day for all spectators.
What separates winners from losers? All-Ireland final day can elevate a team to new heights simply by the occasion itself. The preparation will be second to none if teams want to give themselves the best chance of achieving glory. But what are winners made of? What allows a team to beat their opponents if they have prepared just as much as the others and possess players who can be matched appropriately and evenly against one another? Is it down to luck or is there a secret recipe? In my opinion, there are ten ingredients:
1. Fight and Hunger – No matter how many times you have won or lost, fight and hunger need to be present. There has to be a strong unified want by every member of the team and this should be voiced clearly and put into action.
2. Fitness – Even if you think you are in good shape and have trained reasonably hard all year, you should always think of others who are likely working just as hard or even harder. Cork seniors showed how fitness was a vital part of their game when they beat Wexford in extra time during their semi-final. They were able to lift their game because of their extra fuel in their legs in the closing ten minutes.
3. Experience – If a player has been there and done that before, they have the lucky advantage of knowing what has worked in the past and what should be done when their backs are against the wall. They can often be more composed on the ball and many younger players will feel reassured. Cork have this in abundance.
4. Positive team spirit/bond – Good coaches understand the importance of having a happy and unified team. You work harder for a team-mate if you have shared a common experience as a team with them. Boot-camps or army training have proven very popular for teams, but simple activities such as a meal together or a light night out are also very effective in getting everyone working towards a common goal.
5. Trust in team and management – The starting 15 have a job to do on All-Ireland final day. There will be those who are disappointed not to be starting, but there needs to be trust in the team, panel and in those who had the difficult task of choosing them that they know what they are doing and it is what’s best for achieving what you set out to do.
6. Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard – It’s a no-brainer and a sentence you have heard before. The intensity you and your team brings to training needs to replicate or go beyond what you set out to do in big games. When it then comes to the big day, there are no surprises, you have practised and trained for this. Your opposition at training matches and drills should be treated like your opponents from another team. No matter how talented you are, if you don’t work at it, you will be outplayed some day.
7. Freshness and youth – All three teams I will be supporting possess youthful exuberance. Youth often brings very little fear and also brings an excited energy that allows players to express themselves and enjoy the game more. Hannah Looney of the Cork senior team was fearless in the semi-final and her fantastic high catch in extra time and the great point she scored following this catch displayed a player who was confident and unrestricted by nerves,
8. Belief – There can be no negatives consuming your thought process in an important game. The strong belief that you are going to win should be almost written on your forehead.
9. Familiarity – Your hurley should be treated as an extension of your arm. You know how it feels, how it rests in your hand, the sound it makes when you strike a ball effectively. Your team should also be familiar to you. On the field you know where they are, how they move, and you can almost predict what they are thinking or what they will do next. When you pick a ball, you will know who to hit it to next because you have practised this at training over and over again.
10. Characters – Every team has them and every team needs them – it’s better to have more than fewer of them. There are many for Cork but one that stands out is Briege Corkery. She is very witty and creates a great vibe in the dressing room. But once she is out on the pitch she does not stop and her character transforms to a dogged and fearless individual who can lift a team when they really need it.
More characters will stand up this Sunday, they will need to in order to lift that cup.