Emotional intelligence favours Donegal in final, says Kieran McGeeney

But Kerry have geography and James O’Donoghue on their side

Perspective is everything. Late in the draw between Kerry and Mayo, James O’Donoghue went for glory. He missed. Declan O’Sullivan spat bile at him.

One is a Kerry footballer with a bucket of All-Irelands; the other knows he won’t be a true Kerry footballer until he has at least one.

Another question of perspective: if Jim McGuinness’s Donegal win a second All-Ireland on Sunday, will the deserved plaudits follow?

The answer, according to Kieran McGeeney: “No. Tyrone never got it and they won three [All-Irelands]. It’s just the way sport is. People have different opinions. It can be fed or it can be taken down.”


Straight talking

Some would be of the opinion that McGeeney is bluntly harsh. Not that anyone doubts the man’s emotional intelligence. The fourth estate only gets around him a few times a year. He’s admittedly no fan of the press, yet he answers most questions with directness and insightfulness that makes it easier to feel less is more.

So we forgive the silence of high summer when Armagh hid beneath a blanket media ban.

McGeeney is now ascending to the high chair of football management in his native land, while maintaining a vague role among Tipperary hurlers.

Much like his fellow Mullaghbawn natives, the brothers Enda and Justin McNulty, McGeeney is a sports psychologist – for want of a better phrase – who is in high demand across multiple sports. He just does it more quietly than McNulty’s motiv8. He won’t name any of his clientele.

“Enda, Justin and myself are all from one area back home and have been doing this for a long time. I slag Enda that I have been at it a lot longer than him, he’s just better at it than me.”

Emotional intelligence? That’s how winning is achieved amid white heat. We know this because McGeeney told us so at the launch of the Asian Gaelic games with First Derivatives in Croke Park yesterday.

Conor McGregor is the appetiser. Imagine all the YouTube gold McGeeney’s recent sparring session with the Dubliner would have made.

“Ah, I wouldn’t spar with him stand up. Nobody would exist with him that way. I did it on the ground . . . He’s world class. I’m just a stubborn git.

“Even seeing the psychology of what it takes to win at that level. It’s a very emasculating thing to walk out of that ring being a lesser man than somebody else. It is probably the ultimate sport in some regard.

“Part of you goes missing when you get beat. Same out there.” McGeeney nods towards the field that sucked him to his knees in September 2002. Victorious.

“It is a very intelligent sport [Brazilian jiu-jitsu]. It’s not mindless. It is a wee bit like chess. You have to give things to get them dealing with being under pressure. These aspects can be used to cross over.”

Darragh Ó Sé made the point that more can be learned about Donegal from the Armagh quarter-final than the Dublin semi-final.

The game in hindsight

“It’s very hard to analyse a game once it’s over because there’s so much emotional intelligence attached to it. Especially in the last five or 10 minutes. But when you sit down and collate the amount of attacks and why it broke down, one of the main problems Armagh had was an inability to make the right decisions at the right time.

“That only comes with experience . . . Donegal have that.”

With emotional intelligence in mind, who has the edge come Sunday?

“I would go for Donegal, but Kerry are big game players.

“Donegal have a fantastic fullback line. The two McGees are two of the most underrated defenders in the country . . . They do their job, which is taking people out of the game. Neil is exceptionally fast. I only noticed that at the Aussie Rules training. So quick for a big man carrying 14-15 stone.”

He then explains why Kerry can win. Geography helps. James O’Donoghue too.

“Making the right decision at the right time is the key to any successful sport,” he said.

“Even against Mayo in the first game, you can see what makes Kerry great, people were giving on to O’Donoghue for not holding on to the ball and making sure of it. But O’Donoghue was giving it back saying the shot was on.

“It gives you an insight into the psyche. It shows you why they like that big game day.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent