Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Joe Kernan: Ability counts but belief is the backbone of success

Donegal captain Michael Murphy helped to instill the belief that took his side to a double helping of success this year

Success in sport is often akin to waiting for a bus — your patience is just reaching breaking point and then suddenly two or maybe even three just happen to come along at virtually the same time.

Tyrone wallowed in virtual anonymity for well over one hundred years before they suddenly soared into the stratosphere by winning three All-Ireland titles between 2003 and 2008.

And Crossmaglen Rangers had achieved nothing of distinction until 1997 when they embarked on a championship journey that has since yielded five All-Ireland club titles, eight Ulster championship crowns and fourteen Armagh accolades.

This year, Donegal and Dublin saw their patient wait for success rewarded when they made the big breakthrough at last, Donegal landing the Ulster title after 19 years and Dublin ending their 16-year All-Ireland title famine.

This entire litany of success comes franked with an absolutely vital element. Belief.

Frustration, annoyance, controversy and anger can in time give way to the warm glow of satisfaction that accompanies success — but only when belief is the major contributory factor to any level of achievement.

Whoever coined the phrase that success breeds success certainly knew what they were talking about.

Already we are being assailed on all sides by pronouncements that Donegal will retain the Ulster championship next year and that Dublin will remain All Ireland champions.

Be that as it may, doesn’t it just go to show what belief can do and what promise it can hold?

All Donegal’s misdeeds and Dublin’s misgivings over the past number of years have suddenly been banished — now we are led to think that these two teams could reign supreme for some time to come.

Certainly in players like Michael Murphy, Colm McFadden, Karl Lacey and Neil McGee Donegal have gifted performers while Dublin boast exceptional talent in Bernard Brogan, Stephen Cluxton (pictured), Kevin Nolan, Alan Brogan and Michael Daragh Macauley.

But to focus strongly on the possibility of Donegal and Dublin remaining as the dominant forces might be to ignore the fact that by virtue of their success these two teams have actually raised the bar for other sides and challenged them to follow in their footsteps next year.

Belief in itself of course is not everything. Yet married to natural ability and entwined with earthy commitment and fierce drive it can prove a powerful element, particularly in a sporting context.

From time to time teams that are regarded as technically modest suddenly spring to the surface, perhaps winning a league or championship in which they were rated virtual no-hopers.

A good coach who can instill and nurture belief is worth his weight in gold — when the right level of belief is inculcated into a side, it will play better as a unit and show mental strength even when it finds itself swimming against the tide.

Every team wants success and that is only natural. But it is left to very few to collect the major honours. It’s hardly surprising that the All-Ireland football and hurling championships have tended to be dominated by only a few sides since the dawn of the new millennium.

To me it seems that once a team acquires a winning mentality it can prove very difficult to halt — it gains momentum and challenges that might previously have been considered insurmountable are suddenly not so intimidating.

Belief, pride, self-confidence, assurance — these are all elements that are necessary for success. Obviously other assets are also required but belief is the word that is constantly on the lips of coaches throughout the country. It is no coincidence that the word pops up in ads all the time and is now indelibly imprinted on the tapestry of sport in this country.

As managers take stock in preparation for 2012, they are aware that convincing their players that they really can achieve success if they establish the right mind-set is a central part of their overall task.

Getting a team mentally right is just as important as having the players in peak physical condition — some would say more so — and that’s why sports scientists, psychologists and psycho-analysts are very much part of managerial backroom teams up and down the country.

Such people have now assumed considerable importance within the whole scheme of things within the GAA — their views are eagerly sought out and acted upon by managers.

And such people indeed generally base their entire input into their involvement with any given side on belief in the knowledge that if other elements are also in place then success will not prove so elusive.

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