Colm Cavanagh: A winning mentality comes from building mental strength and good old fashioned hard work

Tyrone's Conor Meyler lifts the Sam Maguire at the end of the GAA  All-Ireland Senior Football Championship between Tyrone and Mayo at Croke Park Picture: Philip Walsh.

A WINNING mentality - what is it? Do we all have it or just winners? How do we get one?

For me it’s not a secret, there is simply no such thing. Instead there is hard work, grit, determination, not giving up no matter what and even more hard work.

This applies to all walks of life and is something we have to both teach ourselves and practice every single day. If we look across any sport, not just GAA, it is often said “Oh they are born to be winners…that was destined for them…they were always going to achieve that, its just in their blood.”

I think that is very dismissive of the work put in behind the scenes for any achievement to happen.

I read last week that Aidan O’Shea completely removed himself from all social media for weeks after the All-Ireland final. The abuse that was hurled at some of the Mayo players, being singled out for their performance and their commitment, is quite simply disgusting. It’s always the same people too, those who are the ‘biggest supporters’ that turn on a sixpence when things go wrong and you go from hero to zero within 70minutes. I just don’t understand it.

Emma Raducanu won the US Open in tennis just months after being told by an ‘expert commentator’ that the occasion and hype of Wimbledon was “just too much for her.”

The same ‘expert’ that was criticising her after her defeat at Wimbledon was almost taking praise for their comments saying that she must have learned from them to achieve her victory in the US Open. Ridiculous.

Her tennis abilities are unlikely to have drastically changed in those short few months, but her mentality clearly did. She was focused, she was relaxed, she was confident, and she knew herself that she had the ability to achieve her dreams.

I am so proud of the Tyrone lads who have spoken out about previous mental struggles, they have allowed us all to see that everyone has their bad days and that it takes more courage and strength to say something, to recognise the need for help and to ask for it.

They have proven that 'the winning mentality' is inner strength, determination not to give up and to fight for what we know we can achieve. Winning Sam Maguire is the culmination of a lot of hard work, on and off the field, but no-one sees the hard work that squad have put into themselves before they could bring anything to the team.

They have shown our young players that it's okay to say you need help, they have shown us older players that its okay to step back and reassess what is important and to be determined to go for it no matter how ridiculous it sounds or how many times we are told that it won’t happen or it's too late - it's never too late.

I remember when I was setting up my business someone said to me “It is always better to say you tried than to think ‘What if?’” and those words have resonated with me not just for work but across many different aspects of life – What is the worst that can happen? Someone says no? You don’t get the grade you wanted? You aren’t picked for the first team? Step back and then step up. Work hard and focus on what you can improve then take some time and try again.

Now I’m not saying we can all manifest things to happen and all our dreams will come true. They won’t and it is as important, if not more so, that we do not succumb to pressure from parents or peers to push the limits. I will 100 per cent be encouraging my children to participate in sport, which sport or activity they choose will be up to them but they will try their best and they will practice and put in the necessary work to be the best versions of themselves, but if it ever becomes unenjoyable or pressurised, then it is time to step back. Sport and activity are supposed to be enjoyable, at youth level it is supposed to be fun, to be sociable and to learn the skills of teamwork and participation – not making U8s play a blanket defence and teaching them that losing isn’t an option.

Very often we learn more from a defeat or a setback than we do from winning and as long as we can say that we tried our very best, at the end of the day, we can’t ask much more than that.

With the club championship now in full swing across Tyrone those same guys who lifted Sam Maguire a few weeks ago are now back to square one, back to their club teams and undoubtedly will receive more hassle and harassment on the pitches throughout Tyrone over the next few weeks than they ever received while in a Tyrone jersey. The supporters of the winning teams will have their men on pedestals while the losing teams’ ‘supporters’ will be eager to find someone to blame be that the players, the referee, management, the pitch itself, anyone except accepting that they weren’t the better team on the day.

We can’t all be winners everyday but better to say that we put in everything that we had and did everything we could. If we didn’t, then work on it and try again and success will come, not because we think it should but because we have earned it.


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