2002 All Ireland winner and Sports Psychologist Enda McNulty, who works with the Irish rugby team among others, spoke to Jarlath Regan for this week's edition of Regan's An Irishman Abroad podcast.
On a previous edition of the podcast, Brian O'Driscoll revealed that McNulty helped him through his greatest crisis of confidence by urging him to look back at old Youtube clips and remind himself of exactly how could he could be. O'Driscoll credited McNulty with helping to elimate his self-doubt, a trait that O'Driscoll believes is prevalent in every athelte, including narcissism's Conor McGregor.
Self-doubt has also haunted McNulty, most notably immediately before Armagh's 2002 All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin. McNulty believes that the doubt came from placing too much emphasis on the result and it led to his failure to relax before the game. Such was the extent of his doubt, McNulty considered feigning injuryn to avoid playing:
Croke Park was rocking, literally rattling, with the Dublin fans and the Armagh fans.
It was Armagh's biggest game since 1977. I was petrified with nerves. I remember feeling like a little lamb, my legs shook that much. I remember walking around the pitch in the parade beforehand wondering if I should go to Joe Kernan and say I wasn't up to playing in this game, that I'm not up for it, that I don't have the mental toughness for the game.
Should I go to Joe that my hamstring is pulled, so that I couldn't play? My self-doubt was so strong.
McNulty eventually overcame this doubt to play in the game, and turned in what he believes was among the greatest performances of his career. The former Armagh defender's description of coming to terms with self-doubt is evocative:
Because I had learned so much about psychology, I shifted my mental, physical and emotional state midway through the parade. I made a conscious choice to switch it.
I switched it by looking up at the advertising hoardings. I switched it, believe it or not, by attaching the first letter of every advertising hoarding to a positive aspect of the game. So, for Guinness, I would associate that with 'great mental toughness'.
And the next advertising hoarding, say it was for AIB - acceleration. My acceleration was as good as anoyone on the team. I did that for two minutes, I got into control of my breathing, I made a concious choice to make my body strong and tall, and then I made a choice.
As the national anthem ended, I nodded to myself and said: go for it.
For some reason, those two words, Carpe Diem - yes they are a bit hackneyed in sports terms - but they came into my head and I played one of the best half hours of football I played in my whole career.
I was in the 'flow state' - I was totally in control of the moment.
It is reminscent of the method Ronan O'Gara used to concentrate his mind before kicking the Grand Slam-winning drop goal against Wales in 2009: O'Gara revealed that he focused on the advertising hoarding behind the Cardiff posts, rehearsing the numbers on the board in his mind to keep focus ahead of one of the biggest moments of his career.
Elsewhere in the interview, McNulty reveals that his rather visceral regret at that Armagh side winning just one All-Ireland title. You can listen to the entire interview via iTunes and Soundcloud, or by visiting Jarlath's website here.