Colm O'Rourke

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Colm O'Rourke: New culture of blame spells disaster for Fermanagh

Disputes between players and managers are seeping into every level of the GAA, says Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Published 03/04/2011|05:00

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I ORIGINALLY thought I could dust off one of my columns about Limerick, Westmeath or Cork and just insert the word Fermanagh instead and, hey presto, another comment piece on the latest power play between players and manager.

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However, this time it is a little bit different. After the Cork saga -- which should have gone to the United Nations -- there seemed an acceptance from all sides that these disputes had to be sorted quickly and a joint approach between the GAA and GPA was agreed for future conflicts.

It appeared a reasonable way forward. If the players' representatives and the GAA at central level were able to agree on a method of solving the problems, then the locals should be able to sign up to this, a sort of Labour Court for football. But now the Fermanagh County Board have put a big spanner in the works by basically telling the GAA and GPA to butt out. By coming out strongly behind their manager, the Fermanagh board has dug a big hole for itself and there is no going back now. No going back for the players either unless it is on manager John O' Neill's terms.

The die is cast and it looks as if Fermanagh will be short some of their best players for the rest of the year. This is something they can ill afford. They fish from a small pool anyway and some of the bigger Dublin clubs would have more players available to them than Fermanagh.

As always in these cases, there is the players' side and the manager's side, with the truth somewhere in between. It was not a good time for John O'Neill to take over anyway. The team was on the slide. Malachy O'Rourke had perfected a style of play which meant that Fermanagh punched above their weight over the last few years. But their placce in Division 4 indicates clearly where they are now at. Obviously there is frustration at not moving quickly upwards from there and the players feel that at least part of that is the manager's fault.

In many of these cases in the past, I have favoured the players and while I am not au fait with the internal details of this dispute it does become a bit tedious with players crying wolf all the time. Maybe it is asking a bit too much but it would be nice to see players accepting some responsibility for poor performances rather than dumping it all at the manager's door. A county football team is the joint responsibility of the county board, management and players. No one group should suggest that all the problems lie on one side of the fence. This is where proper communication is vital. The county board should get the right system in place for the appointment, players should have a say in this through a nominee -- who is not a current player -- and the players have to then pull their weight when the manager is put in place.

It all sounds simple enough but the mistakes are often made at the appointment stage where county boards don't want to relinquish power to those who know what they are looking for in a manager.

The wider implications of dysfunctional relationships between management and players are all too evident in clubs in every county. What concerns me is that the 'blame the manager' culture is now an almost accepted part of GAA at every level. Even at underage I hear it after a defeat. The manager did not do X, Y and Z. The training is too hard or too easy, the team was picked wrong, the obvious switches were not made, there was no system of play. The list of grievances goes on and on and very often those who make these comments don't know the first thing about football.

They are exaggerated by anonymous contributions on comment boards which have brought a sinister and often bitter aspect to the GAA. The day of a manager taking over his club team just to help out his community and not being subjected to ridicule is long gone. Maybe this is the reason why clubs struggle to get the right type of people to take over teams.

Of course it can happen the other way round too where managers or selectors don't endear themselves to players.

On one occasion, I was injured and sitting in the dug-out with the subs for a league match with Meath back in the early 1980s when football was great fun but we didn't win many games. Anyway, in this particular match, things were not going too well and one of the selectors was getting increasingly agitated at the poor performance of many of the players. He was not hiding his

displeasure either as most of the subs could hear. After about 15 minutes he wanted nearly everybody taken off. As his frustration reached boiling point, much to our amusement, he walked down to the dug-out and had a good look in. After studying the assembled mass of subs for a minute, he shouted back up to the rest of the selectors, "we can't take anybody off, we have no one to put on". It really filled all the subs with great confidence. Needless to say, I could not wait for the match to finish to tell all the players that their places were secure no matter how they played in future as there were no subs.

Yet for now the manager myth has taken hold. It was always going to happen. No matter what anyone thinks, the GAA follows the same patterns as other sports

and the manager in most codes is king. For this responsibility there is a good bit of credit in victory and most of the blame in defeat.

In Fermanagh, it does not matter who is right or wrong. The county board have given the full steam ahead order to John O'Neill. Whether it is that they don't have the ability or inclination now to compromise is hard to know. Only one thing is inevitable: they are steering straight for the rocks.

* * * * *

Last weekend, Ben Tansey, who played football and hurling for Meath in the 1980s, went to meet the man above. As always, Ben would have spoken softly at that meeting and he never carried a big stick either. A member of the Gardaí, he played both football and hurling for Roscommon before settling in Navan. Roscommon's loss was certainly Meath's gain and especially so for Navan O'Mahonys as Ben was probably the best club footballer in Meath for a decade. He won a sackful of championship medals and I often ended up on the losing side with Skryne.

On many of those occasions I wished he had been posted to Kerry or Donegal or outer Mongolia as he was everything a good club man should be: loyal, committed and always performing when he was needed most. Like many others, his inter-county career was badly timed. He played with Meath in the early '80s and unfortunately was not with us when the good times started to roll from 1986 on. Anyway, I think he enjoyed his hurling more and was quite happy toiling away on both fronts at club level.

Ben Tansey was much more than a great sportsman, he was a proper gentleman who behaved with honour and distinction wherever he went, the size of his funeral a clear indication of the level of respect in which he was held.

Sincere sympathy to his wife Kitty, children Paul, Ann Marie and Bernard and all his family and friends.

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