Getting the Tyrone monkey off their back a massive achievement for Monaghan

The hoodoo factor is real – Kerry had it over Dublin, Tyrone had it over Kerry

They do it differently at the World Cup. No doubt about it. I couldn't help laughing last Thursday night as the Croatian and Brazilian players went around hugging each other in the tunnel before kick-off. Everybody seemed to have somebody to love in the other team – you could nearly see fellas looking around going, 'Christ, I better find someone to hug here or I'll look bad in front of the cameras'.

I know these lads are all professionals and that they have clubmates on other teams and all that. But I was looking at it all wondering where the intensity was going to come from. You’re walking out into one of the biggest games of your life, you’re in front of a huge TV audience worldwide and yet it’s all nicey-nicey and lovey-dovey. How are you going to brain a fella after giving him a big hug in the tunnel?

It must take some level of ruthlessness to be able to switch into the intensity you need just like that. They must be some cold-blooded pros to get into that mindset with the click of their fingers. Mind you, David Luiz was one of the boys who had a hug for everybody and yet the first thing he did was nearly land one of the Croatian lads into the first row of the stand. As I say, they do it differently over there.

Intensity builds

There wouldn’t have been many hugs and kisses going around in the tunnel in Clones on Sunday, we can be sure of that. A few of the

Monaghan

and

Tyrone

players would have played together on colleges teams or for Ulster but the GAA isn’t the World Cup and intensity can’t just be switched on and off like that.

Intensity builds over days and weeks and months and years. For a team like Monaghan, who’ve been waiting all their life to beat Tyrone in the championship, you come into Clones on a day like that promising that, whatever happens, the intensity will be huge. You wouldn’t dare look sideways at the Tyrone players in case they picked up some bit of advantage off you.

That’s what it’s like when you’re trying like hell to beat a team that always beats you. We had it with Tyrone ourselves.

They were new to us in 2003 but by 2005 we felt we had to beat them. Along with having lost to Armagh in 2002, we were going in with the mindset that this northern thing had to be nipped in the bud fast.

And when we didn’t get it done then, it hung over us. Going into the 2008 final, I was full sure we were going to beat them. At no stage in the build-up did I think we were going to lose. I thought we had the team to do it and we had the game to do it and that surely to God they weren’t going to have it over us forever.

But that little voice that says you haven’t beaten this crowd before can always worm its way into somebody’s head. And if it gets into one head, it can get into a few. Fellas can get distracted by small things. Their focus can waver.

Looking back, we were thrown a bit in the lead up to that final by Mickey Harte bringing Stephen O’Neill back into the squad. It came out of left-field. Suddenly we had to give it some attention. We had to plan for what we were going to do if he started or if he came on.

A hangover

It was a brilliant move by Mickey Harte because, as it transpired, O’Neill wasn’t in the same form as he had been before yet we paid him the same amount of notice. Plain and simple, that was a hangover from having been beaten by Tyrone twice already.

The flipside is that Tyrone's players were well fit to say, 'Sure look, we've beaten Kerry before, we'll beat them again.' They knew that on some level Kerry players and Kerry supporters had doubts in their head and straight away that gave them an angle to work on.

It’s amazing what you can do when you’re convinced you have the other team’s number. It’s only a psychological advantage but it matters. Most of all, it make it easier for every player in the panel to tune into what you need in a game.

There’s a comfort there for everyone – they know that if they do things the right way and stick to what they know works, they should come through it. It’s as if everybody decides, ‘Right. No messing here. Let’s do what we do and get it done’.

Crossfield pass

Go back to the 2007 All-Ireland final against Cork, when Kieran Donaghy scored two goals and we were well in the clear. Seán O’Sullivan came off the bench in the second half and one of the first things he did was try to float a crossfield pass with the outside of his left boot, the kind of thing you do when your team is walking away with a game.

It sticks in my mind because straight away after the pass was cut out by Cork, three different Kerry players absolutely read Seán the riot act. Savaged him. Told him that this wasn’t that kind of game and that’s not the kind of thing we were doing. The fact that three different lads had the same thought at the same time stayed with me afterwards. Men on the same wavelength.

We were able to think that way because we always felt that we had Cork where we wanted them if we met them in Croke Park. We could lose to them in Munster but our mentality was that there was no way we were going to be the first Kerry team to lose to them in Croke Park.

Good place

Belief matters. When you’re in the dressing room before a game, you go through your mental checklist. Have I done the work? Am I fit enough? Have we covered the things they’re good at? Do we match up well against them? Do we usually do well against them?

If you can tick the majority of those boxes, your level of belief is in a good place.

That’s how you have to approach it when you’re the team that has the hoodoo over another. We used to have it with the Dubs, funny enough. It never mattered that they had good players or that they were after torching every team in Leinster. We always went into Dublin games thinking, ‘Well, we’ve beaten them before, we’ll beat them again’.

That goes in cycles, obviously. Dublin have it over most teams now, Kerry included. Losing the All-Ireland final to them in 2011 still haunts Kerry people. Not alone did we lose an All-Ireland, we lost it to Dublin. Most people in Kerry were more annoyed about that than they were about the five-in-a-row. You need to choke the life out of the Dubs when you can, don’t give them a chance to rise up.

Close finish

Dublin hadn’t beaten Kerry in 34 years. They didn’t know what it felt like. They didn’t have any experience of it to go back and call upon. But that all changed when Stephen Cluxton kicked the winner. Maybe they would have won last year’s All-Ireland semi-final without the 2011 win and maybe they wouldn’t. I think it’s fair to say they wouldn’t have turned a close finish into a seven-point win if they still had the monkey on their back.

Monaghan got the Tyrone monkey off their back last Sunday. When it changes, it changes. They probably won’t have to wait 26 years for the next time.