The best footballers have a life-or-death mode switch - Dublin or Mayo won't bow to each other 4 years ago

The best footballers have a life-or-death mode switch - Dublin or Mayo won't bow to each other

Where is it that footballers go?

In the heat of battle, when it matters most, where is it that their minds take them?

For 70 minutes, elite level players - the best of them anyway - transform. For 70 minutes, they become animals. For 70 minutes, they're wired up, tuned in, and all they really care about - all that matters in their world - is a football.

You could probably count on your hand the amount of times you've experienced it yourself; the times you went somewhere else; when you elevated above the confines of mortality.

But, for the best footballers in Ireland, it isn't a rarity and it isn't a bonus. It's a switch that they flick when they need it and it's one they couldn't get by without.

When you see the like of Dublin and Mayo knocking lumps out of each other; when you see Andy Moran break loose almost uncontrollably and Bernard Brogan letting go a scream for doing something he could do at a canter every day of the week, that isn't just footballers you're watching. It's superhuman versions of them. The best versions of them.

Bernard Brogan celebrates scoring a point despite the efforts of Colm Boyle 30/8/2015

Mick O'Dwyer is the most successful manager of all time.

Some of his methods were wildly unconventional. He talks about distance running. He talks about training 27 nights in a row with the same Kerry team that he went on to win eight All-Irelands with. He talks about the kind of ideas that sport scientists and physios would lynch him up for.

But he knows that stuff is not by the book. He knows it isn't even specific to Gaelic Football. He didn't care one iota. In his own words, he would do it all again if he took over a team now. Why? Because he was tapping into a different trait. He was tapping into mental strength. He was flicking a switch.

When his successful Kerry, Kildare and Laois teams were asked questions, they had the answers. They had come through too much sh*t, they had too much work done to ever bow their heads and go under without a fight.

They respected themselves too much. That's why people don't surrender.

Any time they stepped onto a football field, they would've done anything to come off it victorious. They literally would've laid their bodies on the line to make sure that they weren't walking off it defeated.

And that's what happens sometimes in the best of clashes. Battles.

That's what happens when you get two teams like Dublin and Mayo who played with full hearts on Sunday as if nothing else in the world even matters.

Jonny Cooper and Kevin McLoughlin 30/8/2015

Yes, it boiled over sometimes. A lot of times. But it was a classic tale of two giants who lay it all on the line and, to get through such a menacing face-off, you couldn't afford to be anything less than a beast-like version of yourself.

And, on Sunday, we were treated to what we have been crying out for all year. We had a contest - a proper one. And we had the biggest stage in the GAA calendar as the prize for the victor. Another wasted year of blood, sweat and guts for the loser. And the latter was not an option for either of them. It simply wasn't.

You speak to someone like Tomás Ó Sé and you ask him to recall an inspirational team talk, a moment of motivation, something that was said in the dressing room or in the huddle that stuck. Nothing does. He doesn't remember any of that.

All he remembers is crossing a white line and playing football - in front of 80,000 or not: "Sure you might as well be playing in any ground in Ireland."

Philip Jordan tells the tale of Brian Cody coming into the Tyrone camp and telling them they needed to bully their opponents. They needed to stamp their authority on games.

Ciaran Whelan? He looks back and almost winces at that 2006 Dublin-Mayo semi final when he led the sky blue jerseys down to Hill 16 where Mayo were warming up - chest out, eyes bulging, refusing to give away any sort of half inch to an enemy.

These guys didn't succumb to the self-doubt and overthinking of your average human. They rose above that. For an afternoon in Ireland's very own Colosseum, they become warriors.

Philly McMahon with Aidan O'Shea 30/8/2015

There might not be much that separates the best teams from the mediocre. The mediocre from the poor.

Talent is a thing, it's real, of course it is. If me and Colm Cooper were to have lived the exact same life, training and eating the same, watching the same games, hearing the same pieces of advice and even thinking the same throughout, I'd wager good money that Colm Cooper would still be streets ahead.

And I'd wager better money that no-one would fancy taking up that bet.

To make it to the top though, you already have something about you. But to make it further again, you need to have something between the ears. And that something is the ability to flick a switch of almost transformation. A switch that takes you someplace else. One that commits your body and mind so wholly to a game of football where skin and bones are being torn apart in pursuit of a piece of leather.

Where the scoreboard and the clock becomes life. Where you're constantly living on borrowed time. Survival mode.

Cillian OÕConnor celebrates beside Cian O'Sullivan 30/8/2015

How many people can honestly say that they've been there? And how many people can honestly remember what was going through their heads for that hour as teeth were bitten together, bodies were sacrificed and all that mattered was getting back up the field in an almost trance-like one-purpose existence?

We saw that for the first time this season at the weekend when Dublin and Mayo locked horns.

We saw two teams wound up to the nineties, two talented squads that needed no words in their ear, two groups of men that became more than that. Because they needed to.

That's why, in the build-up to All-Ireland hurling final weekend, we're talking about the football.

We know it's going to be life or death out there and we know that they know it too.

And, for 70 minutes, they won't give a toss about what's going on around them or what's being said or chanted. They won't give a toss about a green or blue jersey as long as they can come out at the other side with a ball in their hands.

They care about surviving. Nothing else.

That's what that switch is. That's what championship is.

That's what living is.

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