Mind games must be won before you can win the game
THE MIDDLE THIRD:MINDSET IS a huge thing. Go into a championship game with the wrong one and it will cost you. The landscape of the championship is changing with every passing weekend this year and so far, it’s the teams with the right mindset who are making the biggest impression.
And as Kildare found out on Sunday – and Dublin got reminded of – teams who go in thinking they only have to turn up are getting punished.
I was playing in a charity game for autism on Saturday above in Parnell Park and afterwards a few of us old so-called experts stood watching the Donegal v Tyrone game. And even though it wasn’t exactly the most fun game in the world to spend an hour in front of, the one thing everybody was impressed by was Donegal’s mindset. They were the same against Tyrone as they had been against Derry and against Cavan before them.
It doesn’t matter who the opposition is, they go out with the same mission – to empty themselves and play to their game plan.
Nobody would argue that they have the best collection of players in the country, but, the way they play, that doesn’t matter. They run, they tackle, they overwhelm the teams they play against. They take their points well when they get their chance and teams find it so, so hard to score against them.
It’s possible that before the year is out, some team will decide to kick long against them and will do it quickly and accurately enough to cause them problems in the full-back line, but nobody has yet. And until they do, Jimmy McGuinness and his team will keep rising.
Their mindset is their greatest strength. They go out there totally convinced of what they’re going to do for each other. They’re very focused, they don’t panic, they stick to their system. And the best thing about it is that everybody else knows all about it and tries to prepare accordingly.
Their attitude gives them a start on most teams even before a ball is kicked because everybody they come up against now is having to play the game on their terms. It’s a serious weapon to have in your locker.
The one concern I would have for Donegal is that there might not be a very long future in this level of intensity. Their bodies can take the punishment in the short term but can they do it in the medium and long term?
They had three fellas go down with hamstring twinges in the warm-up on Saturday and Neil McGee had to come off after three minutes. That’s obviously a bit of a freak occurrence but you’d have to worry about it in years to come.
Donegal have taken the Tyrone template and ramped it up even further, but how times over the past decade have we seen Tyrone’s season ruined by injuries? When they’ve had all their players fit and well they’ve been contenders but go through their best team from those years and you can’t name too many of them who haven’t had to do a good spell on the sidelines with injury. It can’t all just be coincidence.
But that’s for down the road.
For here and now, Donegal are going out for every game with a clear idea of what they want to do and how they want to do it. You’d be surprised at how far something that simple and straightforward will take a team. It will make them stand apart because not every team has it.
Even the very good teams struggle with their mindset from time to time. Take Dublin. They went out to play against Wexford on Sunday with their minds only half on the job. We all know how good the Brogans are, exceptional footballers both of them. But they just didn’t seem to want to put in the work on Sunday that they’ve done on other days.