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All-Ireland SFC: Sage words of GAA advice from... Eddie O'Sullivan

The former Ireland rugby coach has some past pedigree of playing in major gaelic football finals.

Eddie O'Sullivan, pictured at the Churchill Cup in 2011.
Eddie O'Sullivan, pictured at the Churchill Cup in 2011.
Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

THE PLAYERS OF Donegal and Mayo are well into the final preparations ahead of their county’s All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final at Croke Park on Sunday but the last-minute advice is coming thick and fast.

Former Ireland rugby coach, Eddie O’Sullivan chatted to Newstalk on Tuesday morning about his experiences in the GAA world and offered sage words on how to handle pressure in the days leading up to a monumental match.

O’Sullivan, who played corner forward on the Mountbellew Moylough that lost the 1982 Galway Senior Football Final, said it was the job of the coaches to focus the minds of his team before getting them fired up. He said:

I’m looking forward to Sunday and especially (watching) two teams that weren’t flagged for the final at the start of the year. It brings a whole new sense of excitement to the All-Ireland Final that it’s not the likes of Kerry or Dublin.

“I’ve always said,” he added, “that the levels of commitment in gaelic is extraordinary. Rugby players are well paid for what they do but, because they are paid, they have the time to commit completely to what they do.

“But professionalism is a state of mind. It’s about applying yourself to the ‘nth degree and because the amateurs, in a sense, don’t get paid it doesn’t preclude them from the professional approach.

“I think the level of work and energy and commitment that the GAA players make to their sport is extraordinary.”

O’Sullivan added that he often amazed people in America, when he was coaching the US Eagles national team, that GAA players, who regularly played in front of 80,000 supporters, ‘didn’t get paid a bean for it’.

Past pedigree

The Cork native had a fitness role with the Galway GAA team, under John O’Mahony, when he was cutting his coaching teeth in the mid1990s.

He acknowledged that the players from Donegal and Mayo would have to cope with a huge amount of pressure during All-Ireland Final week. O’Sullivan commented:

Both managers will want their teams to go out and play the games of their lives.

What I always used to say is, that if you deliver the performances of your lives and you all do that and we still lose the game, there’s nothing you can do about that. You can only control what you can control.

“Both managers will be trying to create an environment where (the players) can play the games of their lives.”

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John O’Mahony gave Eddie O’Sullivan a fitness coaching role when he was Galway manager. (©INPHO/Tom Honan)

O’Sullivan spoke ruefully about the fact that his Ireland team did not play at their collective peak at the 2007 World Cup.

“That Irish team that I was in charge of, we never got anywhere near our best performance when you consider how well we had played that previous Autumn and Spring.”

The final moments before kick-off

O’Sullivan aid ‘the biggest mistake’ the county coaches could ever make would be to cut them off from the hype of Finals’ week.

“If they accept it on the basis that it’s there, you roll with it, but you don’t take your focus off what really matters – that’s your performance on Sunday,” he said.

“In a game like this, the manager that best retains the focus of his team has the best chance of winning.”

As for the minutes leading up to throw-in, O’Sullivan had this to offer:

Probably up until two or three minutes before they go, a sense of calm (is best) so guys are thinking about the jobs they have to do. It’s about getting the job done.

“Then, with about two minutes to go, you can certainly fire a rocket at them just to make sure they are up for the explosion that will happen when the ball is thrown in.”

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Patrick McCarry

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