‘All-Ireland isn’t just a game’

ANYBODY who has ever been invested in the outcome of a match knows that it does something to you… the pre-match butterflies; the involuntary verbal outbursts; the beads of sweat that cascade down your back as you gape at the game-deciding ‘45 as it hangs in the air, the arc of which will decide whether the chemicals that are about to flood their body will produce a feeling of devastation or elation.

To find out what the upcoming All-Ireland final is doing to the county’s psyche, the Tyrone Herald spoke to local psychotherapist, Bronagh Starrs.

“Sports fans experience intense emotions when watching matches,” said Bronagh.


“They align with a team, and, in this case, the people of Tyrone have a sense of oneness and a strong group identity with the Tyrone team. Even those who jump on the championship bandwagon (myself included!) will be experiencing nervous excitement.”

It turns out that over the course of a game, the emotional journey of fans is like a slightly watered-down version of what the players experience.

“Fans watching won’t experience the same intensity as the players,” said the Tattyreagh-based psychotherapist, “but it will feel pretty close.”

“That’s because mirror neurons in the brain make us feel like part of the team. These mirror neurons will be firing strongly and that means the All-Ireland final isn’t just a game – our brains and hearts are actively participating. Children and adults alike will be caught up in the anticipatory excitement.”

But what are these chemical that our states of mind are controlled by?

“When our team is playing well, or wins,” said Bronagh, “our brain starts releasing dopamine, which produces an exciting high and we’re buzzing. We are still living off the collective surge of dopamine in Tyrone that was released a last weekend. Tyrone is literally ‘fired up’!

“Similarly, when the team is losing our brain produces cortisol, a stress hormone, which makes us feel upset, anxious and down.”


She continued, “Cortisol is also produced prior to a game – that’s why there will be a lot of anxiety floating around Tyrone over the coming days…sports fans can have intense anxiety before a big game, just like the players themselves.”

Bronagh conluded, “Interestingly, the more positively football fans dream about their team achieving glory, the stronger the negative emotions are after their team loses…so hopefully the Tyrone lads will bring Sam Maguire home. After all, the county’s mental wellbeing is at stake!”

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