John Allen: Talk of keeping confident team’s feet on ground is nonsense
Galway were great against Dubs and everyone will be watching for another big display
Galway’s Cathal Mannion celebrates scoring his side’s second goal against Dublin in Tullamore. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The Galway hurling team heads for Tullamore again tomorrow with happy thoughts of their routing of Dublin fresh in the memory bank. The feel-good effect from that comprehensive drubbing of the Dubs can’t be underestimated.
Or maybe it’s already been diminished by the “we’ll have to bring them back down to earth” lobby.
It always amazes me when I hear talk of trying to keep players grounded. It’s as if the confidence that we all want our players to have needs constant reining in, on the off chance that it might hurt us to believe that we’re good.
Confidence takes careful construction and sometimes we’re delivered a bonus when our team performs way above expectation. I don’t think anybody foresaw Galway’s excellent showing a fortnight ago. We’ve all heard the Gary Player quote “the more I practise, the luckier I get”. The thing is, all the “serious” teams practise but very few succeed in winning trophies.
Look at what confidence has done for Waterford. Or look at what Derek McGrath, Dan Shanahan and Fintan O’Connor have created. They have a system that works. The players believe in it. They’re winning and and they’re confident. That confidence is a by-product of belief, hard work, dedication and a bit of luck. Why would we want those players or the Galway players to keep their feet on the ground? Surely the sky is the limit for the confident human and team comprised of them.
But Galway have been here before. They have sometimes (often) delivered a masterclass followed by a mediocre performance.
One of the biggest predictors of performance is the player’s mental state, which, of course, only the player is aware of. If he feels good going into a game, the likelihood is that his performance will reflect this positive condition.
Confidence, concentration and control are hugely important in game situations. Surely Galway go into tomorrow evening’s game with confidence at quite a high level. The confident team can achieve anything. The Kilkenny of the Brian Cody dynasty (since 2006) have consistently delivered performances full of belief; belief that has grown and been encouraged from within. They now always play with the certitude of champions. Maybe Wexford will begin the dissolution of the dynasty on Sunday but over the last decade Kilkenny have always hurled with the confidence of champions.
The Galway full-forward line of last weekend, in particular, has reason to play again with great conviction.
Laois will be seen by many, though, as not in the top-quality bracket. They are not among the top hurling teams in the country but they should prove to be formidable opposition.
Sporting history is littered with victories for the underdog. Remember 1978 and the famous victory of Munster over the All Blacks or what about Greece in Euro 2004, who were quoted at 150/1 going into the finals but defeated Portugal in the final.
Lucas Glover, ranked 71st in the world golf rankings, created a little happiness for a few lucky punters in 2009 when as a complete outsider he won the US Open golf title. So the underdog does sometimes win.
Laois will wear the little-fellow tag tomorrow. Since Séamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett took over a winning mentality has developed. His drive, conviction and professionalism has convinced a group of hurlers that it’s good to play for the county senior team. They are prepared to make the many sacrifices necessary to perform at this level.
Yes, they go into tomorrow’s game as outsiders, but outsiders with a certain amount of confidence.
They have a number of top players. Willie Hyland heads a group that includes Zane Keenan and Tommy FitzGerald but this is a team game and for Laois it’s a game in which concentration and return from the whole panel unit is key.
The concentration debate has been taking place for a while now and not just in sport. Bite-size is now the fundamental unit across all sectors of life.
Arguably the concentration span of the first-world human is decreasing. In this year’s Walsh Cup, Carlow hurlers contained Galway for the greater part of the game but a very small number of concentration lapses cost them dearly. The Dublin hurlers have had a number of major concentration lapses this year. It has also affected Galway hurlers on a regular basis over the years.
The RTE Radio One listenership should spike on Monday morning when the draws for the hurling qualifiers will be made. Cork, Dublin, Clare, Offaly, Westmeath and the losers of all this weekend’s games will be in the bowls. There’s the likelihood of a very early season end for one or two of the top teams before American Independence day is celebrated properly .