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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Time for the players to filter out all noise

Final build-up is enjoyable if it's managed in right way

Ciarán Kilkenny will be away in Donegal as part of his studies before the All-Ireland final.
Ciarán Kilkenny will be away in Donegal as part of his studies before the All-Ireland final.

Already, Dublin and Mayo players have entered that peculiar period when everybody wants to talk to you, but you don't want to talk to anybody.

It's not that the preamble to an All-Ireland final is akin to a three-week stint at Guantanamo Bay for those involved - it's a very privileged time to be a player and it can be enjoyable if you manage it well. But that's the key - managing it.

The lava has only just cooled on last Sunday, but already Dublin will have spoken about how to avoid distractions and disregard outside noise and stated that all that matters between now and September 18 is what goes on and what's said inside camp.

Fans, pundits, papers, even what the opposition might say - it's all irrelevant to your preparations.

Mayo have long since had that chat.

For players, you can't live in solitary confinement and you can't walk around with a mask over your face, so it's essential to have a filter.

Prediction

In Dublin, lads will be told enthusiastically by well-meaning people they meet that they're going to beat Mayo and that they're going to win back-to-back All-Irelands and become one of the great teams of all time which, as a prediction, is perfectly credible.

But it doesn't do much for the thought-process of the player involved. It's not going to help him perform in the final.

In Mayo, you'd imagine the excitement is almost unstable, given how long it has been and the regularity with which they've been in finals since then.

If they win, they'll probably erect statues to the men who ended the famine but, again, that's not the sort of talk you want the players absorbing, even subconsciously.

Lads are human.

For all they'll be told otherwise by management, if you hear something often enough, you'll start to believe it, so there's a balance to be struck between being polite and just ignoring people.

I had a family and a full-time job to take up my time before the three finals I played in, which may sound like a tricky juggle, but it's far easier than being in college and having hours of idle time where you're investing energy into not thinking about the final.

Fellas are different. Some fantasised about playing in All-Ireland finals since they were kids, so it's only natural then to find it hard to tune out as that life-defining moment approaches.

Rory O'Carroll was the sort of fella who never had that problem.

In fact, I'd be certain that Rory hasn't thought about football once since he left the panel last year. But then, he was a unique character.

I see Ciarán Kilkenny is going to Donegal for a few days as part of his studies.

Fair enough.

In the long list of places I'd consider going to for a bit of peace and quiet, I'm not sure Gweedore would make the cut. But no better man that Ciarán to switch off.

Our first final in 2011 was the ultimate test. It was all brand new and the whole thing was huge. A first Dublin final in 16 years. As much a novelty for the GAA and the rest of the country as it was a time of delirium for supporters of the team.

Everyone wanted a piece. Media, fans, corporate suitors.

Pat Gilroy just shut it all down. The press conference was done more than two weeks out from the match and there was no loose talk. Everyone was 'on message' about Kerry being favourites.

Every minute detail was looked at and Pat got us into the psychology of dealing with the event as much as the game.

The ball was thrown in to our training matches at 3.30 because that was the time of the final.

Beforehand, we'd line up and shake hands with 'the President,' and do the parade, just so nothing about what is a very unique day with lots of unique pageantry would throw us.

But mostly - and this applies to Jim Gavin as well - it's about doing the same things that got you there in the first place.

Tactical

A lot of it is simply keeping fresh and avoiding injury, with a training camp thrown in for more concentrated tactical preparation.

Last year, I really enjoyed ours.

A number of people said to me afterwards how relaxed and positive I'd been around the group for the few days but that was a conscious state of mind I'd put myself in because I knew it would be my last.

There is, however, one universal truth about big finals, regardless of the participants, regardless of the era, regardless even of the sport - tickets are a nightmare.

For all the other games, players can get pretty much as many tickets as they want. It's not an issue. For a final, you just can't get your hands on enough tickets to keep everyone happy. People come out of the woodwork.

There will be a lot of texts that go without response from players the week of an All-Ireland final.

Mostly, people are respectful and they won't hold it against you but it's an All-Ireland final and some can get pretty desperate as the days count down without procuring said ticket.

It will be up to the lads before this weekend to decide who's getting their allocation.

Usually, I passed them over to my Dad or let my wife look after them so I didn't have to deal with that hassle.

You don't go hunting.

You get your allocation and let it go.

We obviously had a big family and with me, Bernard and Paul involved in 2011, it was easier to look after most of them but definitely, it can weigh you down.

It's just part of it. Remember, Dublin are trying to win back-to-back All-Irelands. Mayo are going for their first in 65 years. For whoever wins, this a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

They've a right to be selfish now.

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