‘It’s just cool to be involved with them’ – McManamon on working with Ireland’s boxers

KEVIN MCMANAMON FIRMLY believes that if he hadn’t utilised sports psychology, he wouldn’t still be playing for Dublin today.

The St Jude’s club man met his sports psychologist in 2010, a year before his famous goal against Kerry in the All-Ireland final.

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The mental training he did helped the forward deal with his pre-game anxiety, building up his confidence to the point where he could perform to his potential on the biggest stage.

“I probably wouldn’t be still playing for Dublin if I hadn’t met my sports psych in 2010 because I just wasn’t able to perform on the big day, really when I started,” he explains.

“Through a number of tools I use and stuff like that, I’m a much more comfortable doing it now. That’s what it is for me.” 

Six All-Ireland victories later, McManamon has moved into the field of psychology himself. Long fascinated by the human mind, he completed a Masters in UUJ a few years ago and is now self-employed in the industry.

He’s worked with athlete across a variety of sports, including basketball, rugby, golf, badminton, tennis and athletics.

“For me, that’s the untapped market, the mindset side of sport,” the 32-year-old says.

People probably don’t train it as much as they should. So it’s just a place to do that. Conversations are most of the time a great starting point for it. That’s the benefit of it.”

The Irish boxers have benefited from McManamon’s insight in recent years. He’s worked as a consultant with the IABA (Irish Athletic Boxing Association) since 2017.

At the European Games last week, Team Ireland’s Kurt Walker won a gold medal after his unanimous decision victory over Ukranian Mykola Butsenko in the 56kg decider.

Team Ireland’s homecoming from the 2019 European Games in Minsk.

Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Kellie Harrington and Michaela Walsh brought home silver medals, while Grainne Walsh, Regan Buckley and Michael Nevin all won bronze in Minsk.

“It would be different per athlete,” he says of his role with Team Ireland.

“I do the performance psychology with them. It’s more the planning and the reviewing that I do rather than in the executing stage where they’re actually over there delivering it.

“You meet them every few weeks, you have group sessions and you’re involved in some of the trainings. I’m just there as a mental skills coach essentially to give them tools to perform consistently in the upper-range of their capabilities.

I love it, it’s cool and fascinating to meet people from that world and that sport. I learn a lot from them and get a lot professionally out of it.

“Sports psychology wouldn’t be full time. I do some group facilitation work, do connections work and things on leadership development and stuff like that. It’s broad enough at the minute.”

McManamon is asked about the differences between getting a boxer and GAA player mentally ready to perform.

“It’s very interesting,” he says. “It’s just a different sport. We do have a team element to it but it is an individual sport. There’s probably a different level of fear going into a fight than a match because essentially, you’re in danger.

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“As in, someone is trying to hurt you whereas in Gaelic no-one’s trying to hurt you so you’re dealing with that.

“But the thing that fascinates me is the tacticians that are the best boxers – how they set-up traps for each other and how the art of fighting plays out in fights.

“That’s what I love. It’s just cool to be involved with them. It’s not full-time but I’m in there as much as I can. It is cool to be there.”

McManamon was speaking at the AIG Insurance GUI & ILGU Cups & Shields launch.

Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

He is steadfast in his belief that sports psychologists play a key role in modern inter-county set-ups. 

“Essentially the role is to work on mental skills coaching and a lot of teams would want some sort of an outlet for people to discuss fears, worries and stuff like that off the field.

“That there is an outlet for people to go, ‘Listen, this is going on at home or this is what’s going on in my head, at work or on the pitch.’” 

The veteran forward hasn’t yet managed to break into the starting team this summer, although he’s hopeful the upcoming Super 8s will provide opportunities in Jim Gavin’s attack. 

His long-serving team-mate Bernard Brogan has yet to make the matchday 26, while Dean Rock had to be content with a place on the bench in the Leinster final after returning from injury.

“It’s fairly hectic alright,” says McManamon. “Everyone trying to get a little nose in front of each other, it’s something I’m very used to over the years, it’s something we’ve always had.

“When someone like Alan (Brogan) retired we had someone just as good to take his place. That works really well for us, that there’s no-one that’s guaranteed to be playing.

“You have to be doing it in training and the team is picked on form. It’s something I really like because it gives everyone hope. If you are playing well and you can skip the queue. That’s been part of our success so hopefully that continues.”

“He’s been able to get lads in, one or two lads nearly every year. It’s just a credit to the set-up we have and lads getting stuck into it and making a name for themselves.

“Yeah it’s getting harder now for the over-30s lads to get in. It is what it is. I just have to accept it. I’m in good shape physically even though I’m 32, I’m still able to do it and mix it. Just trying to break in now over the rest of the summer.”

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