Reilly was intrigued with psychology and was constantly exploring what it was that set peak-performers apart. He maintained that if you could get inside the head of an uber-performer you could go a long way to replicating that in your own life too.
To this end he had poor Tom Lally’s head mithered. Everyone knew Tom Lally had played goalkeeper for Glasgow Celtic and is still a cult like figure from his halcyon days with Sligo Rovers. What they didn’t know was that Reilly had played Gaelic football with Lally for Fr. Griffins as a youngster and he was every bit as good as Lally in goals. In fact they more often than not played Reilly in goals and Lally outfield.
After Lally went to Celtic however, there was a marked divergence in their respective performances. Lally really accelerated everything – his attitude; his skills; his results. He became almost unbeatable, even at the elite end of the game.
It perplexed Reilly. How could two lads be the exact same for ten years and then one of them develop so much better?
When Lally would return for the close season Reilly would bamboozle him with questions. Grudgingly acknowledging that Lally had now surpassed him in terms of performance he’d ask him.
‘Is it the fitness. Are you training day and night?
‘Not really. We often trained harder and longer before a championship match with ‘Griffins.’
‘Is it the quality of the manager then?’
‘Not particularly. We had many managers as good in ‘Griffins if not better.’
‘Well it must be the gear then. Is it the football boots or them coal shovel sized gloves you’re wearing now?’
‘Nah. The boots and gloves we used in ‘Griffins mightn’t have been as fancy and shiny boots don’t make you walk any faster or kick any better.’
‘What is it so’ proclaimed Reilly in exasperation.
‘Five words. Just five simple words’ said Lally sagely.
‘What do you mean five words’ hissed Reilly angrily. ‘If shiny shoes can’t help you run faster how can stupid words help you stop shots better.’ Reilly was rightly fuming and Lally was thoroughly enjoying the banter.
‘Reilly, if you have the right words they make all the difference in the world.’
‘Well tell me the words then and we’ll see.’ Lally paused for an eternity before sharing the following vignette.
‘Reilly, my first game for the Celtic thirds team was a daunting challenge. I was lonely and felt lost being away from home in a strange city. I was trying so hard to prove myself with one of the most famous football clubs in the world and I was sick with tension. Worst of all I was terrified.’
‘What were you terrified of Lally?’ Reilly was enthralled and fascinated.
‘I was terrified of the next shot Reilly.’
‘I’d let one soft goal in and this voice erupted in my head saying ‘what happens if you let another soft one in’ and do you know what! That’s exactly what I did. I let a goal in that the two of us would never have allowed happen in the Swamp in either training or a match.’
‘At half time I sat by myself in the dressing room dreading the second half. An elderly man, whom I didn’t recognise at the time, but he was one of Celtic’s legendary ex-goalkeepers, sat beside me and asked what I was thinking.
‘I told him I was terrified of the next shot. That I mightn’t be able to save it.’
‘And it was then that he gave me the five words that made all the difference in the world.
‘Lally’ he said.
‘Being a goalie can be the loneliest place in the world, and strangely, the most exhilarating. Your ability and results as a goalie are less a function of your fitness or skills or gear but rather, more of the dominant conversation in your head.
‘For the second half, I want you to repeat the following five words every time you think of the next shot.
‘I can and I will (stop it).
‘Those five words, twelve letters, made all the difference in the world.’
The world feels a bit like it must have felt for Tom Lally that first day he kept goals for Glasgow Celtic. Uncertain. Lonely. Terrifying.
The chatterbox in our head can also erupt, often in the dead of night, and ask all sorts of frightening questions.
‘Will I be able to survive the virus if I get it?’
‘Will I ever be able to get my business back to where it was just two short weeks ago?
‘Will I ever be the same again?
The next time your ‘chatterbox’ shoots off just tell it over and over again.
‘I can and I will.’
And be a coach to others who are uncertain, lonely and afraid at this time. Just like that old Celtic goalie of yore. Ask them what they’re thinking. And assure them.
‘You can and you will.’
‘It’s all happening perfectly. Whatever happens in my life, I’ll handle it. I’ll learn from it. I’ll make it a triumph.’
What would you ever have to worry about again if you knew you could handle it?
I CAN AND I WILL HANDLE IT.
(Many thanks to Tom Lally who was our postman for years in St Mary’s Road and shared this story with me. May it inspire you and those around you in these days and weeks of uncertainty and fear.)