GAA Football

Kevin Madden:: The right mentality will fuel the fires of success

Anthony Joshua begins his ring walk ahead of Saturday night’s world heavyweight title fight with Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Picture by PA

Kevin Madden column: The right mentality will fuel the fires of success

EVERY generation has an iconic boxing fight they can say they had the privilege of seeing, and I think I witnessed mine on Saturday night.

The fact that Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitchsko was being shown at an hour which didn’t compromise my much-needed beauty sleep was a bonus, which softened the blow of having to fork out the hefty fee of £19.95 to watch it all unfold.

It brought back memories of my youth as it had all the hallmarks of Rocky IV – my favourite Rocky film.

You know the one, with the big blond super human Russian, Ivan Drago. Rocky gets battered about the ring for half-a-dozen rounds before he decides enough is enough.

Rounds five and six of Saturday’s fight were a bit like that as both boxers were sent to the canvas, yet somehow recovered to get back in the game.

Part of me cursed the failure of both to land the knock-out blow, but more of me sat back in awe as they somehow recovered to get back into a winning position.

There was a huge build-up to this fight and it made me think that boxers can’t be immune to the nerves that afflict other sportspeople.

Barry McGuigan has an excellent line about nerves being like a fire: “Used properly, it could warm your house and heat your water, used wrongly it could burn your house down.”

With that in mind I was interested to see whose water was a nice temperature and whose thatched roof was in danger of going up in flames.

Joshua had good reason to be nervous because apart from being the rookie, his ring entrance saw him hoisted on a platform between a flaming ‘A’ and a flaming ‘J’. Talk about being put on a pedestal.

For Klitchsko the stakes were high. Not only was the 41-year-old coming to the end of the road, but it was the opportunity for redemption after crashing and burning against Tyson Fury in his previous fight.

If nerves were one factor, resilience and finishing power were the other game-changers. With the start of the Ulster Championship just two weeks away, these are emotions and situations to be experienced by individuals and teams desperate to get over the line in their first game.

A former rugby-playing Aussie friend of mine often talks about “the two per cent between the ears” being the difference in sport. I like to call it mentality and, if you think about it, that view makes perfect sense.

All teams are likely to be in peak physical condition, with the hard yards covered on the pitch and in the gym. That is a given now at inter-county level. In most games, there will also be little to separate teams in terms of talent and technical ability. Tactics and gameplans will be well covered too.

So that’s where the mental preparation becomes such an important part of it, and can tip the balance. Nerves can be your enemy or you can make stress your friend.

Even the most confident of players will have to fight the fire of negativity at some point. Everyone suffers from a little self-doubt. Just ask the Dublin forward Kevin McManamon, who admits doubting himself in the past, wondering: “Am I good enough? What if I don’t play well? I might get taken off. This doesn’t look like it’s going to be our day. What if I miss that free to win the game?”

Thoughts are fuel for the brain that can determine how the body will perform. So sending negative thoughts there is a bit like putting petrol into a diesel car.

It just won’t work and will probably break down sooner rather than later. A lot of players nowadays use positive self-talk as a means to overcome the nerves.

This might be their approach: “I am blessed to have an opportunity to strut my stuff in front of 15,000 people. I am better than him. This is where I belong.

“The anxiety I’m feeling isn’t any different to what anyone else is experiencing including my opponent. I’ve done the work; I’ve made the sacrifices, so I’m going to focus on making sure I get my reward.”

To paraphrase health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, from her TED Talk lecture ‘How To Make Stress Your Friend’: “My heart is racing; great that means blood is getting around my body. My breath is getting faster; that’s deadly because that means oxygen is getting to my brain.

“My palms are getting sweaty; that’s mighty as I am living a moment of excitement that many would give their right arm for.”

Some players, particularly free-takers will use mental imagery coming up to a big game to rehearse situations over and over again in their minds. My creative mind always found that one difficult to master but nonetheless it works for others.

In just a few short weeks, we will start to see some houses heating up nicely and others that may have caught fire.

For these inevitable victories and defeats many will site reasons like fitness, tactics, the referee or even lady luck herself.

When you are wondering why your team has won or lost, remember there may be another factor at play. And it may just be that it is the all-important two per cent between the ears.

Kevin Carey: A fighter to the last

I woke up yesterday morning to be told the devastating news that my former team-mate Kevin Carey had passed away after a long and courageous battle with brain cancer.

The entire Carey family have been synonymous with the GAA in Portglenone for decades as they played a big role in the club, church and community.

I kicked ball along with Kevin, his brothers – Tom Tom and Paddy – and I can tell you that the softest thing about a Carey on the football field was their teeth.

Kevin was no different in that regard; strong as a horse and a pretty good full-back to be fair. But off the pitch he was very much a kind, calm and gentle soul who for the last two years fought his biggest ever battle with unbelievable courage and dignity.

The high regard that Kevin was held in is perhaps best illustrated in the story of how a community rallied together last August to raise more than £200,000 in just three days, with the hope that pioneering immunotherapy treatment would give Kevin the shot at life which he so richly deserved.

Kevin’s heartbroken wife Natasha described him yesterday morning as “My beautiful gladiator”.

What fitting words for a loving husband who tackled the grave news of his illness with the retort: “I won’t be beaten, I want to fight.” And boy did Kevin fight, until he had nothing more left to give. A gladiator to the end.

To his wife Natasha, and the wider Carey and Healey families, my sincere condolences.

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