There is one great imponderable in sport especially when you get to the real business end of things and that is, how are the players going to respond to the occasion? Former Down player and two-time All Ireland winner Conor Deegan explores what goes through a player's mind in the build-up to this weekend.
In many ways playing in a final should be the easiest game that you will play in all year, easiest from the point of view that barring a draw it's the last match, the end of the journey. One last big push to give the players, management and adoring fans what they crave, an All-Ireland. Sounds great but it just doesn't always work out like that.
This is a huge weekend for all associated with the Mayo and Dublin football teams. It is a weekend that many from both camps have experienced before with contrasting results but it is this experience that they will be calling upon to help them prepare for Sunday.
We used each other, the younger of us drawing from the more experienced. Listening to the mantra, that we were good enough to win that we have to believe in ourselves and the team. This will be no different this year or any year for that matter.
Since I appeared in my first All-Ireland having just turned 21 two days previous,some things have changed dramatically but some have stayed the same.Players have become very experienced earlier and from the outside, they appear to take things much more in their stride.
The training has become more scientific and so has the mental preparation side of things. The whole preparation from an early age along with the marketing and exposure to the media has also helped. Players seem to be 'ready' earlier. Our attempts at this were of the time and in comparison seem quite crude but they made sense to us and more importantly worked.
As with all teams today nothing will be left to chance, the players will know exactly what they are doing on any given day and at any given time. All year these teams have prepared for this, the management will try to ensure that both physically and at this point more importantly, mentally the players are ready.They will talk to them about using what has happened in the past, draw from both positive and negative experiences, use it to help them get ready, to drive them on to greater performances. They will be trying to make this 'just another game', but it's not.
The players will revel in the comfort of the familiar environment that is training and the cocoon in which it will place them. They will have had several weeks to get themselves ready come the weekend there is nothing more that can be done and all that can be hoped for is that the players are ready to go.
It was the same 22 years ago, we had six weeks from the semi-final to get ready. Six weeks of bloody torture to focus on one game. We had the comfort of training and we must have been very comfortable. Night after night. We traveled the same roads on the same nights for so long that the police checkpoints that seemed unusually regular were using our first names when they got us out of the car to check it. This routine of training was probably our salvation.
The circus that went on round was incredible, the photos, autographs, T.V. cameras,press night, tickets could have become overwhelming but for Pete and the senior players like Ambose, Liam, Greg and Paddy. The excitement within the county was palpable and people hoped we could win but it was only hope, the players believed.
Everything, this week especially, will be peripheral. The players will have nothing but a focus on this game and having been there before will know how best they can deal with it.
But, no matter how professionally you have prepared there is still the little question of nerves. The week leading up to the match is the worst and only added to the apprehension players feel them in different ways, I played with a lad who threw-up on the pitch every time before a match started others visited the toilet on a regular basis and others just sat there waiting. For it is the waiting that is the hardest part.
The sanest place to be this week will be within either camp as it was with us.
When you run onto the pitch it's a release, it is where you feel most comfortable, it is what you have been waiting for. You run onto the pitch, the noise is deafening you look up drink it all in the lower your eyes to pitch level and start the warm-up.
Even at this point nobody really knows how a player is going to respond when the game starts, the fumbled catch, poor decision, misdirected shot can be down to nerves especially early in the game and how you start can dictate how you go on to play. Thankfully, due to the reactionary nature of the game players soon settle down and just get on with the job of playing. As the game finds its own rhythm you are taken along with it, you stay in that moment concentrating, no concept of time.
Some will struggle and some will flourish but the greats embrace it, they take the game by the scruff of the neck and impose themselves onto it. They demand the ball, assume responsibility, they believe.
An All-Ireland is a magnificent occasion and on Sunday we will witness collective and individual brilliance from both sides as the game ebbs and flows we will have heroes and maybe even villains but we will have one hell of a spectacle.
Best of luck to all involved and enjoy.
Follow Conor on Twitter - @DeegoGAA