Seeing is believing: Richie McCarthy’s All-Ireland winning psychology

Defender employs visualisation technique to prepare for what materialised at Croke Park

Limerick’s Richie McCarthy and William O’Donoghue celebrate at the final whistle after victory over Galway at Croke Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Every All-Ireland winner is their own case study in psychology, and Richie McCarthy is no exception. In his dreams, he was already holding up the Liam MacCarthy; only when it actually came true he could hardly believe it.

Aged 30, an All Star full back in 2013, McCarthy wasn’t even sure what if any role he might play in Sunday’s showdown against Galway. He hadn’t started a championship match this summer, and was only required as a replacement in two (against Clare and Carlow).

Still he spent the entire week mostly lost in the process of visualisation, imagining what he needed to do once he did come on, and what he would do once Limerick won. Including roaring in front of Hill 16.

No wonder McCarthy is one of the many Limerick players to be singing the praises of Caroline Currid, the Sligo sports psychologist. Given the nature of the business, her exact influence on Limerick’s victory on Sunday may never be known, only McCarthy is adamant it all played a key part.


Before working with the Limerick hurlers this year, Currid had been involved in the back-room teams of three All -Ireland winners – Tyrone (2008), Tipperary hurlers (2010), Dublin (2011). She also worked with former Munster captain Paul O’Connell and Kenya’s two-time 800m Olympic champion David Rudisha.

“The management and ourselves were all a bit raw getting to an All-Ireland final,” says McCarthy, “but she had the experience, she told us a lot about it. Even the day before, she said if you don’t pick up the hurley the day before a game, then don’t do it. In other words don’t change your routine, which is a big thing for us.”

Currid’s input become particularly useful when Limerick found themselves holding out against Galway’s late onslaught, their eight-point lead whittled down to one in injury-time: “You just have to keep in the moment, she always says that.

“In the Cork game, we were on the flip side of it, coming from six points down. You just have to keep calm, keep realistic, keep playing the ball out, keep playing through the lines, don’t panic. And I don’t think we did, I know they eked away at the lead but at the end of the day I think we kept our heads.”

McCarthy has by now brought the MacCarthy Cup back to his native Kilfinane, the highest village in Limerick surrounded by the Ballyhoura Mountains; and more specifically to McCarthy’s Bar, the family business with also has traces back to Tommy McCarthy, Limerick’s two-time All-Ireland winning defender in the 1930s.

“What can you say about that? It’s in the family, it’s unbelievable. You’re just building on a tradition there for years. For myself, Tom Condon, Seamie Hickey, Nickie [Quaid], the old guard really, you always want to think you’d get there by any means, before I retired anyway. Still, not in your wildest dreams did you think we’d get there.

First replacement

“But in the build-up to the game, even when you’re sleeping during the week, I always had the image in my head of running around Croke Park with that trophy in our hands and I wanted to go up to Hill 16 and go absolutely nuts with it, which I did.

“Visualisation is not used enough in GAA. All week I had it in my head, I didn’t want to be thinking too far ahead because if you’re thinking of future things, you’re lost, but all week I was just thinking it, whether I come on or not. This panel is so tight, with the 36 panel members that we have, it didn’t really make a difference if I started or not, everyone is the same really on that panel.”  When McCarthy did come in (the first replacement, on 50 minutes, for the injured Mike Casey), he knew exactly what to do: “I saw Mike Casey went down with his ankle in the first half and I was kind of preparing myself. Then I think he went down with cramp in the end. You’re mad to get into it, but you’re very nervous too, your legs are gone to jelly.

“But when you get the first ball and get the first tackle, you’re into the game straight away. You’re training ten or 11 months and all your life for these occasions so that’s where you want to be. Being honest as a player, you do look up at the clock, sure, and you’re thinking ‘please time come on come on, be on our side’. When we saw eight minutes, that’s an eternity. In my head I was also thinking if a fella is coming through you have to take him down because if you give away a score, what about it, you have a lead.”

McCarthy has little doubt that this victory will do for the future psychology of Limerick hurling: “Shane Dowling spoke during the week and said ‘why can’t we win the game by six or seven points, why do we always have to be chasing the game? Go out and f***ing win it, play with a bit of abandonment, we’re well capable of it.’

“When Micheál Donoghue came into the dressing-room after, he said ‘the one thing ye do, enjoy this’. That’s for the management to decide who to bring in for next year but the boys are so grounded. The full back line was only 22-23 and they’re going to be there for years to come.

“They’re just so used to winning. In years gone by, if we won a big game it was kind of like a relief. But these young lads are just so used to it. If we won a big game in years gone by, we’d maybe celebrate for too long but they’re just so used to winning and we’re living off them really, they’re the heroes really.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics