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Enda McGinley: Be the best you can be

Celebrating Tyrone's 2003 All-Ireland victory with the late Cormac McAnallen. An unswerving commitment to the cause, with 'balance' nowhere to be seen, was the catalyst for fulfilling that dream

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THE off season: the time of year where the difference in personalities within a team comes to the fore.

There are those who, released from the discipline and structure of the competitive season, are like wild kids let out in the snow. They will fully switch off and not want to think about football, training or anything connected until at least the start of February and immerse themselves in their social life.

For these folk, the appointment of a new manager is greeted with dread as it is likely to mean an earlier and more intense start in the new year.

Then there is the other contingent. The type that, after the joy of victory settles down or the intense pain of the fi nal defeat eases (for these ones it never goes away of course), are soon refl ecting on their own game over the past year and where they can improve.

They will hurl themselves into some new programme determined to come back better than ever. They look forward to training again and will turn up on day one of pre-season psyched and ready to go win titles even if they barely scraped survival in the Divison Three reserve league the previous year.

As ever, there is also a group that straddles the divide. They are the ones who manage to have a good time in the off season, but know how and when the time is right to get down to business. This group is regarded with a degree of envy by the ultrafocused, while those in the fi rst group look at them like lads on barstools look at the friend who gets up and leaves halfway through the night to go home. Now, personality plays a big part in this.

People’s personality will have them sit comfortably in one or other of the groups. They may choose to push one direction or the other, but invariably they will fall back to type. I was in the ‘Let’s do it’ group. There are no ‘indentured slaves’ in this pack. They love a bit of over-commitment. The opposite to them are the free spirits, those who want to live life and, as part of that, are happy to play football and try to win things.

For many players now, the goal of winning a county title is just one facet of their life. They will work towards it, but they also expect to be able to have a good social life, to travel, to have their stag dos or weekends away. This attitude is increasingly prevalent and marks a signifi cant change within team dressing rooms – it is partly due to social media and partly due to the sheer breadth of possibilities open to young people these days.

So who has got it right? The seriously ultra-committed people or the ‘we’re here for a good time, not a long time’ group? When talking of an amateur sport, there would appear an obvious answer. Surely you must have a balance. As I’ve said already, I was part of the serious/obsessed group and, from my teens to early 30s, my life was not balanced.

Essentially, while I made sure to keep things like school work going, football was still the be all and end all for me. Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. Increasingly, however, there are persuasive arguments being made to not take the whole thing as seriously, that there must be more to life.

This attitude might be the absolute right thing for some people. For many others it is dressing up a bit-part life as better than what it is and rubbishing the great and unique experiences that having specifi c goals and priorities, even if it means having to sacrifi ce some things. During the summer holidays, I was able to spend some time with my uncle Frank Higgins up in Donegal. He was a central part of Tyrone’s first ever ‘great’ team in winning Ulster titles in 1956 and ’57 along with the likes of Thady Turbett, Jim Devlin, Jody O’Neill, Patsy Devlin, Iggy Jones and Frankie Donnelly.

Most of that team would be familiar names to any Tyrone supporter such was their impact. Uncle Frank was telling me a story from when he was heading into university life and was getting a few pieces of advice from a respected man about lifestyle and career and such things. But as Frank laughed, he said to me all he wanted to do at that stage in his late teens and early 20s was play football. Now that wasn’t the crux of his story, but that line really struck a chord with me. It caught me by surprise.

In my ignorance, I viewed football back then essentially a gatherup of boys, with limited training, changing behind ditches and running out to hammer lumps out of each other and occasionally kick a ball. Yet here he was, describing his priorities at this stage in his life in exactly the same manner I would have described mine. I thought the dedication and focus on your playing career was a more modern phenomenon, yet generations ago men were dedicating themselves to something and, in the end, had no regrets and derived a lifetime of joy out of it.

This brings me back to the peddling of the modern myth that the best way to live life is to try to sample everything and get as many experiences as possible. Following this path means you may get a bit of everything, but what’s the point in that if you never get close to achieving your true potential? Try to maximise yourself in any given field, be it studying, career, family or sport, it takes huge desire and a long-term dedication to the tasks at hand.

This does not, of course, guarantee you success, but it does remove the prospect of a life spent wondering what you might have been able to achieve. Those who do great things in life rarely are half-hearted about their pursuit. So for those out there who find yourselves prepared to be dedicated to the task, never worry about the so called ‘fear of missing out’. Just go and do what you do. Life and sport takes all sorts and, just as the free spirits amongst us want to sample life, many will want to strive for their goals.

They should do that safe in the knowledge that maybe it’s not the number of experiences,but the quality of them that really counts. 

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