Former Tyrone player, Enda McGinley has given a fascinating insight into how manager, Mickey Harte mentally prepares his teams ahead of the All Ireland final against Dublin on Sunday.
McGinley was part of the winning All Ireland panels of 2003, 2005 and 2008 and also played under Harte at a minor level in 1998. Speaking at the Guinness GAA Bound Together media day, the 37-year-old admitted that Tyrone never viewed themselves as underdogs in those finals, despite going up against very strong teams in Armagh and Kerry.
“It sort of surprised me looking back that we were underdogs! It’s only looking back, but going into those three finals, we absolutely assumed we were winning it. We, in our heads, not only were we in with a good chance, it was a done deal that we were winning them finals. That’s Mickey’s phenomenal strength.”
“Looking back now and realising we were actually underdogs, you realise at the time that we were in a complete bubble. Now I’ve been chatting to some of the ones closer to the set-up. That bubble is well and truly alive and well within that set-up at the minute. Them boys fully believe that they’re beating Dublin.”
McGinley believes that, although people are realistic, the whole county has bought into the self-belief created by Harte.
“I think we’re remarkably confident up there! We have essentially suspended logic. Logic stays at the county borders and inside it we’re just filled with hope. So I think, as a people we’re fairly defiant. People see it as negative, but we’re fairly defiant and we don’t take being told we’re second class, we don’t tend to accept that.”
“I think everybody knows that Dublin are a phenomenal side. They’re more experienced than us, they’re probably better player-for-player than us. They’ve shown better form than us. In most of the critical areas of the game, they are the stronger side. But there is something about having the Sam Maguire trophy sitting there in the Hogan Stand. It’s there for the two teams to win, and one of them teams is going to win it.”
What will give Tyrone some food for thought is the manner in which they lost to Dublin in last year’s All Ireland semi-final in Croke Park. The Dubs dismissed Tyrone in spectacular fashion, cruising to a 12-point win in what was effectively, a no-show from the Ulster men.
“The obvious caveat is that they were in a similar bubble for last year’s semi-final and it got burst in spectacular style very, very early in the game. You could visibly see it burst. Even when the game was still winnable on the scoreboard, they were only three, four, five points down, they were beat. Everyone in the ground could see it. Last year’s championship run, they were hammering everyone out of sight until they hit the road block that was Dublin. It was a car crash waiting to happen, unfortunately.”
“But I think this year Tyrone have been less impressive on their route to here, but that has forced them to become a wee bit more resilient. They’re more able to cope with upsets in a game and I think having played Dublin in Omagh and having faced the mentality and physicality that Dublin bring recently, I think coming into the game them players will be really focused.”
It is well known that prior to the 2003 All Ireland final, the Tyrone panel harnessed the power of the national anthem, learning it word-for-word and reciting it time and again to help mentally prepare them for the game. It was an idea inspired, of course, by Harte who used it as a way of teaching his players the magnitude of what a win would mean, as McGinley recalls .
“It was Michaela, Michaela was a Gaeilgeoir and taught us the anthem and we learned it and had to sing it repeatedly on the bus. It wasn’t a nice rendition and yet I remember clearly, it was for that famous semi-final against Kerry and at half-time we were waiting for Kerry to come out and in a huddle underneath the Cusack stand, ‘Horse’ [Gavin] Devlin, the assistant manager at the minute, starting singing and there we were, a bunch of lads waiting for Kerry to come out for the second half and there we were singing the national anthem.”
“It was surreal but the attitude then was Tyrone had always went down the road and not being capable of winning All Ireland’s, we weren’t being seated at the top table, it was as if we weren’t there so Mickey’s big thing was, ‘you learn the anthem because this is your country, this is your anthem, you’re going there, you’re going to be All Ireland champions so you sing that because you own this place’. That was his message and it worked then and all Tyrone teams have known it since so he’ll not be using that one this time but he’ll have the same attitude, no doubt.”
Enda McGinley has teamed up with Guinness as part of their GAA campaign ‘Bound Together’ which celebrates the power of the GAA to unite, and heroes the fans and their passionate commitment and connection to their local communities.