New script. Same characters. How will the drama unfold?
Three glorious weeks for fans and pundits to pour over all the action of the last day, the body language, the post match comments, the claims and counter claims of sportsmanship and fair play, looking for those nuggets that will tell them who is going to prevail next day out.
“Sure didn’t Anthony stand his ground on the sideline and Joe nailed the vital free.” Some of an older vintage will say “didn’t the Déise score a lucky goal in ’59 to draw the match and powered on to win the replay.”
“The free that wasn’t – we’ll make them pay for that the next day and sure look we played so poorly that there’s no way that can happen again.” “How dare they question King Henry?”
Were these the same who so confidently asserted that Galway’s worst mistake was to hammer Kilkenny in Leinster and you do not do that twice?
Three hard weeks for the players and managers to recreate their best.
The only thing we can be sure of is that we don’t know! Isn’t that why tickets are like gold-dust? There’s no hurling final replay to guide us for the last 53 years. If there was one simple formula for winning replays then we would have missed out on the epic Dublin-Meath saga of ’91.”Straws in the wind” aplenty after each match but it just kept rolling along. So we may just have to go back to basics.
Sport psychology is about getting people to perform at their best when it matters most. We can safely assume that Kilkenny and Galway went about preparing to do just that on September 9. The question now arises how does each camp try and recreate that? It is unlikely that any team can really prepare for the consequences of drawn games and the wait to do battle again. However what they will do well is ensure that they get the basics of rest and recovery right. They will use the time to redevelop tactics and perhaps to look at individuals’ performances and how they could improve.
Some “mind games” have been played out in print. Will Henry use the “unsporting” tag to go up another gear; will Joe fear it has all back fired? Unlikely. The real mind matters are played out in the players’ heads when they examine their own performance, where can I improve, how do I stick to the routine that works for me?
Anthony Cunningham knows a thing or two about winning and losing and he pointed to the importance of “the team that takes on the most learning points “from the last day. So the focus will be on identifying those key learning points and then trying to make sure the players take them on board. Sounds straightforward? Not quite. He pointed to “a lack of composure in the last few minutes” but this is not an easy area to work on. Did that come from the pressure being applied by Kilkenny? Did it come from the lack of experience of playing on such a big stage? Did it come from fatigue? Or are there players who simply “lack that composure?
Although the three-week break will allow for much tweaking, the managers will also know the perils of distraction during this time. Much has been written and said since the match - some hostages to fortune given. There will need to be a lot of attention paid to what the players can control, management of needless distractions and skilful man management. There will be opportunities for different players to put themselves in the frame and a chance to see those who are really struggling under the rising pressure. Hard decisions may need to be made.
Good managers and their backroom teams will let the soothsayers and all-knowledgeable observers of hurling to play themselves out on local radio and clubhouses around the county and instead get the players to focus on three key areas that are under their control –
How they prepare for the game
How they will perform
How they react to setbacks/mistakes on the pitch
The only real advantage of the replay is that the managers and players will have some pointers in these areas from the first day and a chance to work on them. There is no single way to prepare for the big game but a lot of work will be put into helping the payers to gradually clear their minds of all but the matter at hand.
A replay will not change the basics the managers want to see, and ,captured by Christy O’ Connor in his book The Club when he said “the last words we hear before we hit the field are “cool heads, composure on the ball, discipline, workrate and savage intensity”.
Cody and Cunningham will know that their warriors will be up for the battle, but that the real task is channelling that energy into good tackling, good decision making under pressure and retaining calmness and confidence when things go against you.
There is a thin line between being psyched up and psyched out. Sometimes with all the pre-match distractions it can be forgotten that the last minute reminders to players about what they are good at and why they are the ones playing today goes a long way in getting the best out of them.
Come 5pm on September 30 we will know who learnt most, which team” kicked on the most” .The lad in the snug will tell anyone who will listen of the signs that made him sure they would win it. The knowledge of the psychology of replays may well be improved, but for now I would still love to get a ticket because I am none the wiser about the champions for 2012.