Joe Kernan: Team spirit is real key to glory
Skill, fitness and commitment are key requirements for any team with serious ambitions of achieving success at the top level in gaelic football.
Yet these attributes in themselves will not guarantee silverware nor even the prospect of entering the frame for honours unless they are complemented by another even more vital requisite — and that is team bonding.
It has become clearly apparent that successful teams in the modern era do not just land trophies because of their individual and collective playing skills.
No, it’s because such skills are complemented by a show of unity, a sense of togetherness and an in-house culture that ensures everyone remains singing from the same hymn sheet.
This was very much in evidence when Donegal won Division Two of the National League and the Ulster title last year — manner in which Jim McGuinness succeeded in getting what in previous years had been a fragmented outfit, tarnished by acrimony, to gel for the common good was almost frightening in its intensity.
Similarly, Tyrone brought team bonding to a new level in winning their three All-Ireland titles in 2003, 2005 and 2008.
When any group of 30-plus players are training and pushing for places in a team, there will be the inevitable verbal spats and recriminations.
But when Tyrone crossed the white line the unity of purpose was there for all to see and it was evident that players were prepared to go through the pain barrier for the good of the team and the pride of their county.
We can reasonably expect that manager Mickey Harte will elicit a similar response from his team this year in the knowledge that this will further fortify their efforts to achieve success.
Last year, Dublin’s preparations for the championship were well chronicled — training sessions, week-end bonding missions, breakfast-time press conferences and innumerable team meetings. Yet the end certainly justified the means when the Sam Maguire Cup was eventually captured in September.
Now as teams prepare to launch their bid for glory in 2012 they are even more conscious that it takes more than training sessions and practice matches to scale the highest peak.
Such teams would do well to take a leaf from the books of sides such as Manchester United and Leinster.
They may be professional outfits but the principles that underscore their success are the same as those which should govern the ambitions of any GAA side — togetherness, a willingness to support each other and a desire to go the extra mile when the heat is on.
GAA teams could learn much from the way players in soccer and rugby applaud a colleague when he makes a telling contribution to a game and engage in ‘high-fives’ at regular intervals during matches.
Too often teams are prepared to carp and criticise each other, indulging in the iniquitous blame game and refusing to shoulder responsibility when the heat is on.
On the other hand gaelic football is capable of throwing up more than its share of folk heroes.
Look at the manner in which Stephen Cluxton looped up to boom over the winning point for Dublin in the dying moments of last year’s All Ireland final — responsibility or what! And what about Kevin Cassidy’s magnificent winning point for Donegal against Kildare in that captivating All-Ireland quarter-final?
Cassidy, of course, has since been cast into exterior darkness by manager McGuinness although there is now a glimmer of hope that he could return to the Donegal squad.
The Cavan Under 21 side came from nowhere to lift the Ulster championship title last year while St Colman’s College, Newry retained both the MacRory and Hogan Cups.
Prodigious feats such as these are not achieved simply because one team can put more scores on the board than the other although ultimately this is what will concern the statisticians.
What really underpins this narrative is the shared work ethic, the brotherhood and the all for one and one for all mentality that are the hallmarks of any team which rises to the very top in whatever sphere it happens to compete.
Instilling these elements into a senior county team is not an easy task given the widely different personalities that go to make up the unit but the successful managers make this a priority.
Players may come from different clubs, indeed from widely contrasting backgrounds but if managers succeed in welding them into a close unit, then success can become a more attainable target.
Sometimes in sport a team that is not perceived to be the most gifted in terms of skill and flair can hit the jackpot.
When you analyse their psyche more closely, you will invariably find that they are mentally right and are imbued with the single-mindedness and hunger so necessary to earn glory.
With county teams swinging into action this Sunday, the spotlight will focus on their strengths and weaknesses as the chase for honours begins.
Time will tell though just what counties have the necessary physical and psychological attributes to stay the course.