Scoring Goals is Easy, Imagining them is the Difficult Part

Eamon O'Shea - with eight days to go to Croker, he was just what the doctor ordered.

A while back I went to a coaching course organised by the hurling wing of Ulster GAA.

It was held at Dunloy’s excellent new indoor facility with a few of the sessions scheduled for outdoors.

The sessions were delivered by some of the usual suspects. Some very technical stuff on conditioning and matches by Micky McCullagh related physical prowess to the practicalities of hurling. Ronan McWilliams spent a good while explaining the intricacies of what we call the circle drill, which we have been using as a high intensity warm up for a season or more.

Then, Eamon O’ Shea took over. A few times in my coaching career a light has been switched on. Once when I went to listen to Johnny McIntosh talking about shooting; then the first time I actually listened to Paudie Butler. One night in Cookstown Gregory O’Kane unwittingly told me all I needed to know about keeping a session positive. A meeting with Paddy Tally led me to tear up what I did and start again. O’Shea had a similar effect.

Not a cone in sight. That immediately threw me; I like my cones to focus players’ spatial awareness – to mark like we used to with jumpers the areas in which I want them to operate. But Eamon’s opening line caught my attention immediately. “I see the pitch as one big space and I immediately think how am I going to use it.” This sounded good to me.

On physicality “Express yourself, some do it with this [held up the sliotar] some with this [jabbed someone with the hurl]. Don’t go looking for Jackie Tyrrell, if Jackie wants you he’ll know where to find you”

OK, you got me now Eamon. Next he had us imagining hitting the ball, an imaginary ball you see. Then, he had players actually hitting the ball. Have the youngsters imagine hitting the ball he said, don’t overcomplicate things. Yep, that’s a good one too.

Then he just set up a simple drill that replicated Lar Corbett’s goal in the All Ireland Final. Brilliant. Simple. To make it worse, he then he showed us Lar’s second goal. Both worked moves, made on the training paddock. By players that knew how each other thought and where they ran.

Outdoors the coup de resistance, he ran a series of running plays without the ball. The players still hurling mind you, just there was no sliotar. Twas brilliant, brilliant craic.

Just what I needed with a trip to Croke Park for the Final a week later. I had left our training that morning in a black, black mood to rush over. Severely pissed off with what I wrongly perceived as pre match negativity in some quarters. It was my own concerns and my own self-doubt that were troubling me in truth and I was feeling the pressure that day. Eamon O’Shea was just what the doctor ordered.

He lifted my spirits, opened my mind and gave me a raft of new ideas for training the following week. I just wished I had an extra week to reshape what Iwas doing a bit but whatever. The next day we were on our orientation trip to Croker to look around and soak it all up before the following week’s match.

I talked to the players about Lar Corbett, and O’Shea talking to the players about scoring goals. Putting themselves in that place. About them imagining scoring and celebrating.

And what happened in Croker the next week? Grace McMullan scored a hat-trick. And we won. Grace is well capable of that, cometh the hour, cometh the woman.She told me afterwards had mentally prepared herself for scoring goals. Well, if you can dream it you can do it as our Méabh says.

I emailed Eamon a bit randomly to sorta thank him, and his reply? “Scoring goals is the easy part, imagining them is more difficult.”

I had spent the weeks ahead of the game imagining Méabh lifting the Agnes O’Farrelly Cup on the steps of the Hogan. Listening to yer man helped that dream come true. Yep, if you can dream it, you can do it.

Postscript: Last night at training, I asked a group of under 8 hurlers to strike an imaginary ball. “We’re hitting this one over the bar to win the game I told them, can you do it?” Every one of them nailed it, myself in the middle like an eejit hurling my own imaginary ball over the bar, hitting the winner. Twas the best craic we had all night. And that, taught me another lesson.