Eddie O’Sullivan knows how it feels to be in charge of a team facing into the biggest challenge of its sporting life. The former Irish manager led the rugby team to three triple crowns but was also in charge when Ireland collapsed at the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
He understands the twin imposters of triumph and disaster like few managers in this country so is qualified to dispense advice to James Horan and Jim McGuinness in the days before they lead their counties into battle for the Sam Maguire.
Speaking on Newstalk this morning he gave his unique insight into preparing a team for a game of such magnitude and offered some words of wisdom to the footballers of Mayo and Donegal before their eagerly awaited clash on Sunday.
O’Sullivan believes that if the managers give their players the best possible preparation to allow them play to their full potential on Sunday, then no matter what the outcome neither team can have any regrets.
“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,” he said.
He feels that he failed to do this with the Irish side during the World Cup and it is a regret he carries with him.
“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.”
Maintaining concentration in the lead up to the game with all the hype and craziness that is caught up in an All-Ireland final is the most vital part the manager has to play in the crucial period before the match, according to O’Sullivan.
“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. In a game like this, the manager that best retains the focus of his team has the best chance of winning.”
For O’Sullivan, just before throw in is the ideal time for the managers to ignite their players to provoke the best response on the pitch.
“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.”
O’Sullivan has plenty of GAA experience to call on, having played on the Mountbellew Moylough team while teaching in the locality. He was a corner forward on the side that lost the Galway county final in 1982.
The former Connacht coach was involved with the Galway team under John O’Mahony before his first spell in charge of the US Eagles and saw at first hand the dawn of professional attitudes in Gaelic games. What he witnessed has given him huge respect and admiration for the dedication of GAA players.
“I’ve always said 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,” he added.
O’Sullivan added that he was excited about the thrilling prospect of this novel final pairing but wouldn’t be drawn on who he thinks will be taking home Sam Maguire on Sunday night.
“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.”