“I find it hard to go to sleep, your adrenaline is still pumping, you’re wide awake, your legs are still sore”.
The late Friday night matches take their toll on Dundalk’s star Left Back.
“I try to read as much as I can after games just trying to unwind”.
Dane Massey is no stranger to the pressure cauldron that is professional football. He’s a top flight Irish league player for the past ten years. Massey has won three League of Ireland titles, 2 FAI Cups and 1 League cup. In a straight talking interview Dane reveals to us the secrets to his consistently top drawer performances.
He will need to draw on them all as his side look to pick up three points against Holland’s AZ Alkmaar this week. This is important to proceed to the latter stages of the Europa League.
Stay and Perform on our doorstep:
Dane lays out this stretch goal for young Irish footballers,
“For too long young Irish lads are going away at 15 or 16 who are far too young and the percentage of those young lads making the first team over there in the UK is very slim. So why not stay at home? Be a full time footballer here? Play in Europe! It’s a great target to set for any young lad”.
Dundalk is setting a great example of what can be achieved in the Irish league by a well-run club with a committed group of players. Dane recalls passing Bate Borisov “off the park” this year in a Champions League Qualifier. Dundalk won 3-0. Bate had great results against Roma and Leverkusen the previous season.
“At Dundalk this year, we’re playing in the Europa League group stages. You’re seeing young lads saying I want to play for Dundalk; I want to play Europa League. It’s great!”
“Seeing a league of Ireland player playing at the international level would add to this enthusiasm. It would mean less young lads going away. More would stay at home playing ball while completing their education”.
For this very reason it was a boost to see Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle were called up to the Austria squad. Both players are Dane’s Dundalk team mates.
Performing under pressure:
Dane is familiar with the feeling of being linked to the Irish squad. His performances at left full had him looked upon as potential cover for Stephen Ward. The boys were quick to start teasing when Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill came to watch,
“I had the lads in the changing room giving a bit of banter saying Roy’s here to watch you Dane, no pressure! All my mates started asking for tickets to games. I couldn’t let that affect me. It was fantastic and it did my confidence the world of good. The Irish manager was coming to watch me play football. I really enjoyed it! I didn’t get called up in the end; I don’t think anybody had under Martin from the league of Ireland at that point. If they called up more I think they would be pleasantly surprised by the high standard.”
A mature approach was shown by Dane to enjoy the prospect of a potential call-up. The same team mates joking with him when he was under the spotlight helped him reach such heights, particularly the back four and keeper.
Familiarity breeds optimal performance not contempt:
“It’s a culmination of playing with each other for four years now. Myself, Sean Gannon, the two centre halves Brian Gartland and Andy Boyle have been fantastic as a unit. We know each other’s games and habits inside out. Playing together every day has a vital role in us keeping clean sheets and winning titles”.
In the 2014 season Dane was part of a defence that kept sixteen clean sheets in the league. They have developed even further as a unit since then.
“I think that the two centre halves are more comfortable now. They let the full backs bomb on and know that if I go forward, Sean Gannon has to sit and vice versa. I think we have a great understanding and relationship between the four of us and the Goalkeeper”.
So keeper’s don’t just make your life a misery by roaring at you?
“Ah look keepers are keepers, everyone knows that they’re very busy when they don’t have to be… Nah I’m joking it’s their job to keep concentrated and it’s nice to know you have someone there backing you up”.
Perform through stretch goals:
While the back four have continuously improved as a unit, Dane has taken personal measures to ensure his own betterment.
Goals have continuously helped Dane commit to hard work over a long period. When feeling down-heartened during his last season at Bray he still set challenges dependent on the environment.
“I always felt that having personal targets at Bray was very important. It wasn’t hopefully this week we will get a result, it was more a case that I was trying to hit my own targets to help me progress to the next level”.
An ability to adapt your goals to your environment is important.
“At Bray it was always important for me when the team wasn’t doing well to set personal goals like try to keep a clean sheet, try not to give the ball away, try not to let my winger get many crosses in. With Dundalk I get forward more. I have a personal target for scoring goals at Dundalk whereas at Bray if I got past the halfway my target would be to get a couple of crosses in”.
Personal targets are essential in developing a “better than before” mind-set. How do we ensure targets are concrete and hold ourselves accountable?
Think in Ink:
“At the start of the year I write them down. Goal targets, defending targets, how I want to approach the season as a player, how am I going to improve myself from last year. I write them up on a piece of paper. I know it probably sounds silly but I put them up on the back of my door and I look at them every day. I obviously have to walk in and out of that door so I’m seeing these goals daily. It gives me something to have in the back of my mind going out on the field to train. A feeling that I can improve on this and that”.
What other sports psychology tools does he use?
Compartmentalisation / Periodisation:
“Always take the game in 5 minute blocks. Confidence wise if it doesn’t go well for you in the first five minutes go for the next 5 minutes. Make sure that you do everything well in the current 5 minute period”.
This helps him keep his mind on the present moment in the game and not a mistake from ten minutes before.
“In the first five minutes I look to do something positive, make the winger think about me”.
To keep this attacking mind-set throughout defensive players need to ensure they have the fitness to bomb forward then get back. Great stamina drills will be important for that. Here are some super ones – http://www.fourfourtwo.com/performance/training/how-improve-stamina-football?utm_m_medium=t
Another technique in early blocks is to mindfully concentrate on simple tasks to build your way into the game.
“It will boost your confidence levels if you can make a block in the first 5 minutes or 2 to 3 good passes even if they are only five yards. You’re playing your way into a game”.
All well and good but what if my worst nightmare comes true and I really mess up?
Dane envisages the worst scenario that could happen prior to the game and how he would react to it. The goal is to deal optimally with the mistake thus not looking at it in a negative sense.
“I would think of the worst scenario that could happen to me in terms of a mistake like giving the ball away and then I visualise how I would react to rectify the situation”.
Many mistakes can be avoided through a positive internal monologue throughout the game.
Dane looks to be adept at this with different approaches for different scenarios,
“It’s always going to be different. It depends on what you’re up against. He could be fast, he could be a good dribbler or he could be a good crosser. If he’s fast you think to yourself the next time he gets the ball I have to be very tight and I can’t let him turn to get a run on me. If my winger is a good dribbler, I can’t let him have the ball at all and I look to win it straight out. With a good crosser I will always tell myself to get him on his bad foot. If we are in the ascendancy my mantra is to enforce my game on him and force him back towards his own goal which no winger wants”.
Harness Positive Energy:
As well as great use of goals and self-talk, Dane harnesses energy well from those around him and uses it to improve his performance.
“My dad has a huge part to play in my career. As a footballing man he has taught me all along the way. He’s always setting goals for me to add to my own goals. I’d come home and I’d have scored a hat-trick maybe. He’d still find something to nitpick with you. He’s probably right. It’s good you’re getting an opinion from someone else. You think you have a good game but you don’t really. He tries to give me the spectator’s point of view.”
Like family, team mates must also be a support system to one another for optimal performance.
“I travel with Andy Boyle and Darren Meenan to training. If it’s a crappy day, lashing rain and we’re driving to Dundalk, the lads are always there for a bit of craic. We lift each other up. Then it’s only a matter of getting through the session and achieving what you want out of it”.
What about unhelpful teammates?
Don’t hold grudges:
“It’s only natural that you’re not going to get on with everybody on the team. Once you get across the line to play a game you have to put it aside. You’re playing for the team. You want to win leagues, you want to win everything. You can’t hold grudges. We’re all playing towards the one goal, I think that’s vital!”
When lashing out at a fellow teammate or opponent a good question to ask yourself before is,
Am I doing this for the team or myself?
Respect for your fellow players is important.
“When I was a kid at Bray there were a lot of senior players there. They were the old school days. Senior players took the lad’s boots and cut the laces on game day. You were running around the changing room worrying about getting laces off someone when you should be able to focus on the game. There’s not so much of that at Dundalk, we are a very focused group. I don’t think we’re too hard on the young lads. When it’s game day you can’t be messing with anyone. We’re a good bunch of lads and I don’t think the banter goes too far”.
Communicating to perform:
A healthy approach to relationships with teammates is to accept and give criticism in a constructive manner.
“Sometimes it’s knowing when to give and take criticism. Daryl Horgan is obviously a competitive lad as well and we both like getting forward on the left side. He’s in the form of his life and always demanding the ball. Because he’s often double marked now it’s not always the right ball. The strikers may be the best option. So at times I’ll scream at him and he will scream at me. Sometimes he’s right and I’m wrong and I just make sure to get him the next one”.
Other than on the field tactics what do we need to be aware of from a performance perspective?
Off the pitch performance:
Recovery and diet are hugely important here.
“I think your diet has a major factor. You’ve got to eat well during the week. You’ve got to prepare your body right. When you’re playing at such a high level I think if you’re not eating right you won’t perform to your max. It’s where you get your energy from”.
So what’s the go to meal on match day?
“I’m sick of it now this year but what I generally eat is sweet potato, chicken and other veg. I’ve had to change it up recently. I’ve gone from chicken to salmon”.
Other than nutrition, getting your body well rested and recovered is vital.
“We played Rovers on the Friday night and then went straight into the gym for ice baths afterwards. Then we had a light pool session Saturday morning first thing”.
Study your trade:
Outside his intense football schedule what does Dane do? He reads about football!
“Mostly I read sports autobiographies and stuff. I’m currently reading Joey Barton’s one which is interesting. I’m enjoying his opinions on different characters within the game”.
Reading to expand his horizons is important to Dane. What advice can he pass on to others to expand their horizons?
Best optimal performance advice Dane received:
“The best advice I ever received was from a man called John Rev Senior. Probably the best coach I’ve ever trained under. He said “train hard, if you keep working hard on the pitch it will go right for you in the games”.
Ok, now it’s your turn to share!
Dane’s optimal performance advice:
“Have complete confidence in yourself. It doesn’t matter if you’re not on the first team. When I was younger I was on the second team. Whatever team you’re playing on always have complete confidence in yourself. It doesn’t matter what anyone says. It doesn’t matter what level you’re playing at. If you keep working hard and you believe in yourself it will come right for you on the pitch.”
Dane is a role model for young players looking to develop within the Irish League. We could all benefit from his performance enhancing advice no matter what our walk in life.