Playing the game and not the occasion is key to replicating training ground performance on the big day

I have often seen it with teams I have been involved in, both as a player and as a manager, the guy that is exceptional in training but for some reason finds it difficult to replicate it on match day. 

There are many reasons why we train but the main one has to be geared towards getting the level of performance right for a game. On the flip side of this, I have also come across the guy that does not train particularly well but when it comes to playing games, he regularly stands out. 

Which one of these traits sits best, particularly in a team environment is anyone’s guess but personally I would rather win a match than a training session? It could be a psychological reason why a player fails to perform at their training session levels during game time, it might even be down to the player’s preparation in the build-up to the game but it will only ever be solved if the player themselves decide that this is what they want to do. It will take tweaks here and there but that is all part of the process. 

One thing that always helped me focus on training sessions and on games was setting a specific goal for myself. This meant that I was going to try my utmost to achieve this, even outweigh it. The management will always have the team goals set, but the individual should look at this aspect also.

I believe I was a good hard trainer, but on my first big occasion of playing in the starting 15 for Armagh in Croke Park in the 2000 All Ireland semi-final, I had the nightmare of all nightmares. I was too caught up in the hype of playing on the hallowed turf. It was a dream come true for me but in reality, it was just another pitch with different surroundings. Those surroundings got to me, though. I remember the pre-match parade, walking towards the back of the line with my team-mates in front of me and all I wanted to do was to stare into the crowd. I wanted to grasp this atmosphere with all that I could but it was my downfall. 

I was taken off midway through the second half and instead of playing the match, I played the occasion. I promised myself that day it would never happen to me again and I used it for the remainder of my career to keep me focused on what I had to do. 

Thankfully, it happened when I was young enough so I had an opportunity to correct it. There was a lot at stake in that particular match but the whole build-up and importance of it affected my mindset, therefore my concentration levels were not on my performance, but more on the day itself.

There is no way, particularly as amateurs, that any of us can be nine out of 10 rating every match, but you can consistently play at a level where you are making a valuable impact if your training preparation and concentration levels are where they should be. Each player has their own thing to do to get this right but each player has the capability of getting there, irrespective of where their skill levels are at.
As an Armagh fan, I was delighted that the lads saw off the challenge of Antrim at the weekend. I thought they played some great spells of football but to beat Monaghan in an Ulster semi-final, those good spells need to be more frequent and the level of performance has got to be improved on. 

Kieran McGeeney will already know that, but the great thing about their performance at the weekend is that we all know that there is improvement within the group. It’s a great sign of a team that can win comfortably in a championship match, and still have a lot of areas to improve on. Armagh are a side making great strides forward, but Monaghan will see this as a great opportunity to halt them in their tracks so, as mentioned above, concentration levels and focus at training over the next couple of weeks has got to be a priority.
I recently mentioned in this column footballers playing with an awareness of what is happening around them, and creating space for team-mates so that they can open up an opponent. Maybe it’s the corner-forward in me, but if you take Rory Grugan’s goal for Armagh against Antrim, look at the run that Rian O’Neill makes to create that one-on-one scenario for Rory to score the goal. He breaks out wide and Stefan Campbell was able to thread a pass inside to Rory who did exceptionally well to win the ball and bury it to the net. Armagh have quality forwards, but if they continue to think like this, then it will become an even better attack.

1 thought on “Playing the game and not the occasion is key to replicating training ground performance on the big day

  • That is Avery good summary Stephen which has a lot of truth in it.I am 85 years old and have seen a lot of footballers.I had a good friend in George Lavery who played in the Lurgan League in the 50,s.He looked a good footballer playing in that gradebut boy when he donned the red and black jersey of Down he was one of the greats.

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