Psychology is huge in all sport now

Is there a sports person alive who has not had victory unceremoniously pulled from his/her grasp at some stage in their career just as victory was in sight? A common occurrence, I suspect!

Is there a sports person alive who has not had victory unceremoniously pulled from his/her grasp at some stage in their career just as victory was in sight? A common occurrence, I suspect!

When the outcome of the sporting event is heading for the history books it makes the subsequent failure all the more painful. The underdog is crestfallen, writes Nickey Brennan.

On Sunday week Ireland faced the greatest rugby nation of all when the All Blacks came to Dublin. A week earlier the Irish delivered an inept performance against Australia.

Psychology is now a hugely important element in team preparation, irrespective of whether that is in the amateur or professional arena. Professional teams commit immense resources to every aspect of team preparation and the impact of the psychologist can often be the difference between success and failure.

In the week before the All Blacks game the Ireland players had to undertake a lot of soul-searching. Throughout their international careers the Irish players do not get too many chances to play against the team that has consistently been the best in the world.

I expect that playing the All Blacks brings a combination of trepidation and excitement to opponents. Maybe the poor performance against Australia was a help. The team psychologist clearly worked wonders with the players. If Ireland needed a psychological boost after the Australian rout, the All Blacks were in need of similar therapy at half time against Ireland.

We will never know what that psychological boost consisted of but some deep soul searching was required. There was a lot at stake for New Zealand also. Victory over Ireland would create its own history as they would have gone unbeaten through a full year.

Create history

So as the second half started two teams set out to create their own bit of history but only one would succeed. It was no accident that the All Blacks were first out on the field for the second half; a statement of intent.

Ireland took a battering and a pounding in the second half. Defensively the Irish were excellent for long periods but the side’s first half attacking prowess was never allowed to develop after the interval.

Despite the relentless onslaught from the All Blacks we still held out hope that Ireland might hold on to a dwindling lead. It is too simple to say the game was decided by two missed kicks from Johnny Sexton – a first half conversion and a second half penalty. Those misses, though, will haunt the young man now playing in France.

Successful teams are now dependent on more than just the starting players and a good back up squad can ultimately decide of titles. In Kilkenny we know the importance of a strong squad of players. Impact subs can and have turned games in favour of the Cats. It is the same with many other GAA inter-county sides.

Last Sunday week both teams used their bench extensively. In Ireland’s case some of the substitutions were enforced by injuries. In the All Blacks case the substitutions were primarily tactical.

The Irish substitutions made little impact. Two of the All Blacks subs scored tries to secure victory. No further elaboration is necessary.

At the end of the game the stadium fell silent. No words could describe the disappointment. The couple of hundred All Blacks supporters had genuine sympathy for the Irish.

Ultimately the awesome power, strength and fitness allied to their superior ball skills ensured the visitors dug out a victory. For the gallant Irish it was a gut wrenching loss and a last chance for some great players to record a victory against those mighty warriors from down under.