‘Allen’ in the mind

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Limerick Hurling Press Event and Squad Training - Monday 8th JulyUPON meeting John Allen, one would be struck by how softly spoken and mild mannered the former Cork dual player really is.
It seems almost strange that a man who sends players into battle, that is hurling, remains so calm, cool and collected.
According to himself, it has a lot to do with the mind.
“I do think there is a place for mental preparation. Knowing what to say and when is a skill. Knowing what is important and what is not. Knowing when to leave off the pressure and knowing the calibre of your players is key for me. I place a huge emphasis on it really”
Described by Donal Óg Cusack, the former Cork goalkeeper, as the best mental coach he has ever known, Allen believes that the real work for his teams is done in the weeks ahead of games and not in the dressing room before they go out.
“In terms of team talks even. What are they? Words to a team before a game when they are probably not in the mind to be listening to you anyway. 25 minutes before is not the time to be all fire and brimstone. If you are, the words will have lost all meaning before the ball is thrown in. I am all about doing the right things weeks ahead of the game. Preparation, rest, gym work, eating, hydration, etcetera are what is important. When lads realise that is not what I say or what Jimmy Barry Murphy says that is important, the quicker they will learn to play the game. I do have a huge interest in how the mind works. I have not figured it out yet but I am learning.”
Allen leads his men into this weekend’s clash with a full panel to chose from.
“Preparations are going well. Touch wood we are going well with injuries too. Paudie O’Brien has a tight hamstring, James Ryan has a little hand problem, but with medical advice on board it looks like we will be injury free. So far so good, we have had a good year injury wise. It is great to have everyone ahead of a big game.”
Having a full panel is a blessing for any coach, but picking a team from that point can be extremely difficult.
“It does create a selection headache. You saw the last day that we started a 15 that created a lot of discussion. We then made 5 changes which all worked. So we were all heroes after. We also know that, that can go the opposite way the next time out. We have had two green versus white games [inter panel challenges] and they have been excellent games of hurling. A number of players, who did not start the last day, are showing good form, so it is going to be tough when we sit down to pick the 15 needed and the extra five who will be included at some stage. That is a great position to be in”
Fans will have picked their team in advance and most will have gone for the same team as defeated Tipperary. Allen has a different view. The Cork All Ireland winning coach will have a starting 15 and a finishing 15.
“I tend to be fairly conservative, to be honest. However you cannot ignore good form in training either. You just have weigh up, form, experience and the blend of the team too, to be honest. The majority of the team that started the last day will start once more. I really don’t the full 15 yet and that is the truth, such is the competition for places. It is a hard balance to get the right 15 to start and the right 15 to finish.”
With his native Cork being on the other side of the fence this weekend, Allen feels that it will be a weird experience, but one that he is looking forward to.
“I suppose, being honest. The first time I put on the Limerick gear, it was strange.
“Now it is not a problem. I have a huge bond with these lads. My loyalty is to the Limerick team of 2013. Even though I am a Cork man, I will want Limerick to win more than anything on Sunday”.