When Joe Kernan took the reigns of the Armagh senior football team in 2002, his first port of call was not the players, but rather the players' wives and girlfriends (WAGS).
He made contact with each one and invited them out for a four course meal and all the drink that they could manage. The ladies duly obliged and the rest as they say is history.
The story goes that every single Armagh WAG was pushing her man out to training.
What this meant for Joe Kernan was that the demands he placed on his players would now be met with approval when they informed their better half.
For example, when the players would have announced that they were going to La Manga for a training camp, there wasn’t the same ‘giving out’.
Such approval is very important because it allows players to go about their training and playing without any domestic worries or that feeling where they know that they will have to make it up to the lady in their life.
Kernan, like many other top managers, understood the important role that wives and girlfriends play in helping players devote total focus and attention to playing football or hurling.
I’m sure there are times when you lift the kit bag and head out the door, knowing that your family would prefer you stay at home. It’s not that anything has been said but you pick up from the body language that you are needed.
In order to be fully focused on performing, players need to be content and be without distractions.
Let’s take a look at a few high profile examples. When David Beckham fell in love with Victoria, Man United supporters began to notice a close correlation with a decline in his performance levels. Sir Alex tried his very best to keep his star player focused but he eventually decided to let Beckham go, recognising that he had become preoccupied with his personal life.
Rory McIlroy’s recent split form tennis star Caroline Wozniacki is another example, whereby Rory’s personal life was negatively impacting his golf performance. We all know what happened when he let her go.
While GAA players are not exposed to the same public scrutiny as Beckham and McIlroy, it must be emphasised that the mental stability of GAA players can still be impacted in a negative way if off-pitch pressures are too much.
I have a story of my own which highlights what some WAGS are expected to put up with. It was the end of October 2009 when our second child was born and we were preparing for the first round of the Ulster Club against Fermanagh champions Derrygonnelly.
My second child was born on the Thursday, three days before the game. We had training that night followed by a short meeting (well, that’s what John Brennan told us).
I rang John, telling him the good news and emphasised that I would need to be away from Loup at 8pm as visiting time in the maternity ward concludes at 9pm.
John assured me I would be away by 8pm at the latest.
As it turned out, I left Loup pitch at 8:40pm and drove like a mad man to Antrim. I arrived at the maternity ward for 9:15pm to find the doors closed.
I hovered about the door for 10 minutes until a nurse finally took pity on my predicament and permitted me a quick five-minute visit. As I opened the curtain to the bed area where my wife and child lay, I couldn’t help but feel guilty. The welcome I received was not the warmest and understandably so.
I apologised profusely and blamed John Brennan, to which my wife responded, ‘If John Brennan wanted you in Antrim before 9 o’clock you would do it’. Attempting to argue was pointless.
As you do in such situations, you try to keep talking in an attempt to deflect from your wrong-doing. As we began to talk about how she was feeling and how the little one was doing, my wife then asked, ‘how did training go’?
At that point I realised how well supported I was, because she still managed to ask even though she was angry with me. She asked because she knew how much it meant to me as she was the one who had been making the sacrifices with me.
She was the one who had missed holidays and weekends away, left numerous weddings and other special occasions early because I wanted to get home.
She was the one who, when craving a Chinese takeaway or a night out, didn’t get it as it was not allowed to be part of the diet and lifestyle preparation (although we have made up for it since).
I’m sure many of you have similar stories which describe the lengths to which your better half supported you in your pursuit of success.
Whether you are a hurler, Gaelic footballer, ladies Gaelic footballer or a camogie player, you recognise the importance of being supported with your training and preparation.
As amateur sports performers we require huge support, particularly as the majority are working full time and paying mortgages.
The support we receive usually began with our parents when we were playing underage and continues right through to senior level.
When you listen to professional sports people speak immediately after a huge success, the first people they thank are their nearest and dearest, recognising the support they received. The biggest part of that support is emotional support.
We have all played in big games where things didn’t go our way, or to put it frankly, we were useless. When those days come and the pain of defeat is so raw, the only place you want to be, is home.
Home and family provide the security and protection that you need in such circumstances.
Home is the place where you are respected as you, rather than always being scrutinised as a player.
During my playing career I have come across a number of players who didn’t receive the level of support that they needed. For example, when our club manager announced we were having a training weekend away in county Monaghan, one of these players said to me, ‘she is going to go mad’.
You knew he would attend the training weekend but you got the feeling he would be made to suffer a little for it, as he aimed to pick up as many brownie points as possible before he would go.
I, like all of you, understand that there are more important things in life than sport but when all is good in your personal life and you have no major worries, we realise the importance of enjoying our sport.
We only truly enjoy our sport when the support from those closest to us is unwavering. If we don’t feel fully supported at home, then it can be difficult to cope with the pressure of performing.
So when he or she comes home to inform you that there is an extra night’s training organised on top of the three that they are already committed to, don’t blame them, blame the manager.
Be like the Armagh WAG’s and beat them out the door because there will come a time when they are retired and sitting in the corner every night, probably hogging the remote controller.
When that day comes there will be many nights where you wish that they were going to training, so that you could get some peace.
Remember, if they happen to have success you know that you have played a huge part and when that final whistle goes and they have either won or lost, the first person they want to see is you.
At times it may seem that with all the training and playing that we forget about those closest to us and almost take them for granted. The point is that players do not take this for granted, they just understand that in most cases the support is unconditional.
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