Farrell credits Gary Keegan for improving mental side of Ireland's game

The renowned high-performance specialist started working with Farrell’s squad last year.

Caelan Doris scored a crucial try for Ireland on Saturday night.
Caelan Doris scored a crucial try for Ireland on Saturday night.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THEIR ATTACK IS clearly making major progress, they are producing some aggressive defence, and there are new leaders emerging for Ireland.

Behind the scenes, they have also been working away on becoming a mentally stronger team.

The review into Ireland’s 2019 World Cup campaign identified psychological shortcomings as one of the reasons for the disappointing campaign.

“Performance anxiety or stress, I do believe it was really relevant for us before and during the tournament,” said IRFU performance director David Nucifora after the review had been completed.

“It’s an important area for us to look at and service better. The whole area of psychology has to be improved as well as health and wellbeing.”

Ireland had many reasons to be happy on Saturday night after beating the All Blacks and chief among them was the manner in which they handled the mental challenges, including repeated missed chances in the first half to leave them somehow trailing 10-5 at the break.

“We weren’t clinical in the first half but then, fair play,” said captain Johnny Sexton after the 29-20 win.

“This team has worked a hell of a lot on our mental side of the game, so to bounce back and come again was testament to the management and leadership group and the players themselves to come back and be clinical in the second half.

“Because previously, we would have said ‘Ah, we didn’t take our chances’ and we would have… not given up, but we would have put the heads down a bit. But we kept pounding away and we got our rewards.”

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell echoed Sexton’s words in praising his team’s resilience.

Farrell himself has long been renowned as a strong motivator of players. He is known as a figure who can get people fired up but also put an arm around their shoulder as required.

gary-keegan Gary Keegan started working with Ireland last year. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

On Saturday night, however, the Ireland boss pushed praise in the direction of Gary Keegan for his work on the mental side of the game in Ireland camp since linking up with the squad last year.

Keegan was previously a huge influence in the transformation of Irish boxing, helping to drive the sport towards major successes at the Olympics.

Having also previously worked with several hurling and football sides, as well as Leinster Rugby, Keegan is now on the IRFU’s National Professional Games Board and also chairs Cricket Ireland’s High Performance Advisory Group.

He linked up with Ireland for the first time last year to help with their mental skills and speaking after the win against New Zealand, Farrell highlighted Keegan’s influence.

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“Along with Gary Keegan, it’s about making sure we’re calm enough to be ourselves because the game can take its own way emotionally,” said Farrell.

“We’re getting pretty good at staying in the moment, being nice and controlled, trusting ourselves, whether we’ve had a purple patch or things have been really getting back on point and sticking to the process and keep believing in what we are trying to achieve.

“I suppose that is the crux of it really. And along with that, it’s how we prepare for the week as a team and individually, that we make sure we’re not just turning up where we’re thinking things will happen magically that we should be better at.”

Keegan is not with the Ireland squad at all times, with Farrell explaining that the sessions on the mental side of the game are short and snappy.

“Meetings could be 10 or 15 minutes, just once a week and then catching up with individuals. These things that are a gradual process,” said Farrell.

“It’s making sure that we are all connected up as far as the language is concerned.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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