Enda McGinley: Tyrone: managers and players plan and prepare. Red Hand supporters hope
As I sat high up in the Hogan stand watching the Tyrone players celebrate their victory over Monaghan and more pertinently their securing of a berth in the All-Ireland football final the momentous nature of the achievement was obvious.
For almost all these players bar Colm Cavanagh and Cathal McCarron this is completely unchartered territory.
Many of their interviews after the match bore testimony to this, revealing the various positions in the stands where many of them watched the final in 2008.
I visualised ahead of them their next three weeks, and I was delighted for them.
They will experience some of the very best weeks of their lives and certainly their footballing lives.
It will be another world to their memories of the last All-Ireland.
Then unbelievably, many were U16s or not long out of it.
They would have enjoyed the All-Ireland excitement as supporters.
At that stage, being as it was, the third in five years, it was almost normal to have reached the final.
Now as young men, the monumental effort and achievement represented in earning a place in the final will have been learned and the place in the stand is swapped for a seat in the inner sanctum of the hogan stand dressing rooms.
The players' and supporters' All-Ireland are two quite different things.
Each fantastic in their own way but obviously mutually exclusive in terms of experiences.
Mickey Harte touched on it in his generous post-match statements where he mentioned how football can create a lift and a bit of brightness in people’s everyday lives.
For supporters the sense of hope and anticipation in the county is a powerful tonic.
Given it cannot be bottled we’ve no choice but to appreciate and enjoy it while it’s here.
For the players, it is no less important for them to enjoy this time too.
Their enjoyment will not however be in the anticipation but in the preparation.
It is a privilege for any player in our sport to be in an environment where everything possible is put in place to allow them to hit their absolute peak.
That is what being in an All-Ireland is all about. The team will be buzzing each and every time they are in each other’s company.
They will only have five or six sessions left and whilst the craic is at its peak the strange reality is that these are the last weeks the group will ever be together.
A lesson learnt from our previous All-Irelands is that, with the vagaries of life, the All-Ireland dressing room is the last time the whole group is together.
For the players and group then, these are very precious times indeed.
Away from training everyone the players meet will want to talk about the game and everything surrounding it. Supporter’s issues such as tickets, where to stay, travel arrangements are of little relevance for the player while discussions around the game will be pleasantly batted away or given the most superficial of comments in return.
Endless passing comments on the street like ‘need to really go at them’ or ‘we ready for it?’ will be mannerly acknowledged but that is all.
The barriers are up to anything deeper that is reserved for within the team.
Inside this bubble the feelings and chat of hope that all of us outside it are being driven by, are done away with. In their place, pragmatism rules. Real steps are the only thing that counts.
As anyone can imagine the attention level goes up a notch or two when you are about to play in the biggest game of your life.
The hardest thing of all is to actually switch off.
Such down-time for players to zone out is crucial yet much easier said than done when it is the biggest match in your life and the only thing people are talking about that is coming up.
This weekend I presume the team will go on their preparation weekend involving the most important meetings and work of the year yet it will be among the most relaxed time.
A huge component of Tyrone’s optimism is from the man in charge of this preparation operation.
Mickey Harte has been here before.
Since the defeat 21 years ago in the All-Ireland minor final of 1997 he has taken teams to six All-Ireland championship deciders and won them all.
That isn’t by accident. His ability to prepare a team for big one off finals is the greatest of all his various managerial strengths.
Those players are now in the midst of that, they could be in no better hands.
For me, this is my first supporters All-Ireland. Whilst I’ve been there for those past six All-Irelands and of course would give anything to be back, there is also a definite relief and relaxation in being able to partake in the idle chat of permutations and chances that is at saturation point.
In the face of having no practical input we the supporters to turn to that easiest of Irish past times, looking for signs to reassure ourselves.
Perfectly timed, on Sunday evening at 8.30, TG4 are showing a documentary of the 97/98 minor team and their transition from minors to senior All-Ireland winners.
Through adversity that team triumphed and became part of Tyrone folklore.
Ten years later many were still involved in the 2008 All-Ireland win.
Supporters will always look for signs.
In 2008, a not-too-shabby Tyrone minor team won the All-Ireland and now 10 years on Peter Harte and Mattie Donnelly among others, will look to repeat that 10-year cycle.
Again going back to that original bunch, the U21 All-Irelands won were of huge significance in the development of that group with the senior title of 2003 coming three years post their U21 success in 2000. With the U21 All-Ireland in 2015, it is simply too easy not to let it fan the flames of hope.
Again there is that sentiment, hope.
Managers and players must plan and prepare. Supporters hope.
As a player it was exactly the useless sort of thing I avoided wasting time on as it has no actual practical use on a pitch but as a supporter especially with facing Dublin it feels essential.
Maybe that famous Tyrone supporter Andy Dufrane who also notably outsmarted his master to overcome a seemingly unwinnable situation in Shawshank Redemption nailed it when he said: “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and good things never die”.