Colm O'Rourke: Royals get it right at last but now it's the players' turn
The new management team in Meath will face a baptism of fire, says Colm O'Rourke
I n another country at another time, the white smoke would indicate 'Habemus Papam' -- we have a Pope. It was a bit like that in Meath this week, the end of a very long saga. And, of course, when there is no certainty, there is speculation, rumours of intrigue, supposed agendas and so on.
Like most conspiracy theories, they are usually well wide of the mark. A committee which was set up to do a job took its time in doing so but they did their work comprehensively and, as it turned out, without fear or favour as the easiest thing in the world would have been to stay local.
They put their necks on the line, as any nomination of an outside candidate in Meath was always going to be a divisive subject, and now the clubs have backed them overwhelmingly. Some may find it difficult to accept that there were not some dark forces at work, but the reality is that Barney Allen, the county chairman and two of the most honourable and independent-minded men in Meath football, Joe Cassells and Liam Keane, were unanimous in their choice of a management team and that should be good enough for anyone with the best interests of Meath football at heart.
For me, there was also an important matter of principle involved. If a committee of stature is set up to do a job, then they should be backed when they come up with a name. It does not matter who that name is. The same rules would have applied if any of the other names had been put forward for ratification. For example, in my line of work you cannot ask a sub-committee of the Board of Management to recommend someone as a teacher and then say you don't like their choice.
When the name of a manager for Meath was put to the executive, then they were entitled to back it. Then this follows its natural course and goes to the clubs. They have the ultimate verdict and if they do not agree with the executive, that is a different matter altogether. It is democracy taking its proper route whether it suits or not.
When the interview panel asked me about the job -- which they were well entitled to do as I was nominated for the position -- I quickly realised that the group who had the most experience was that of Seamus McEnaney and Liam Harnan and no other group, including myself and friends of the highest integrity that I played with on Meath teams in the past, could match that. That was my opinion then and now.
The only obstacles were finance and Seamus McEnaney being from outside the county and there were serious reservations about this voiced by many people at their club meetings during the week including the one I was at. As it was, I expected a tight vote and was very surprised at the big margin when the vote was taken.
Most people, however, wanted closure and it was hardly a state secret that players were quite happy with the prospect of this new regime. There is an old saying though about being careful what you wish for in life; it may not suit everyone and players are often the first to complain about the management when they are not getting their place. There is a balance between players being walked on as they were in the past and a more modern type who feel they have to be listened to all the time. This balance has swung too far in favour of the player recently in most counties and it is certainly time now for Meath's players to show that they are willing to drive themselves to the limit to win national titles.
What will raise eyebrows for some is that the term for the new management team is three years with a review after two. Others in the past have had annual reviews and it certainly worked against Eamonn O'Brien. In any management job, though, it is entirely reasonable to expect a couple of years before being judged. With a difficult league group and Dublin and Kildare on the same side of the draw in Leinster, this regime will have to get up and running very quickly and patience or tolerance has not been a virtue associated with Meath supporters in the past.
This unhealthy focus on management in all counties ensures a great deal of unwarranted criticism. Nearly all counties find their level and that is determined by the players more than the manager. Can anyone think of any manager winning an All- Ireland with a set of inferior players?
Of course good management will maximise the return from the individual and the team but the 'shoot the manager' policy which is prevalent at the moment fails to take account of the limitations in the playing ranks of most counties.
What is far more important in every county is to have a proper games schedule in place so that all players irrespective of age or grade can expect to play up to 20 competitive games in a year. Many counties are moving towards this at adult level but there seems to be only a few who are able to combine the underage activities of clubs and schools to give plenty of games and maximum enjoyment to players under 18 years of age. The good get far too much because of the multiplicity of competitions but there are serious gaps elsewhere. That is far more important than any county team manager. There should always be a fairly good team in Meath because the numbers are there and it is just a matter of harnessing all available resources.
In time, the divisions surrounding who is managing the Meath team will disappear, all of those who are active with teams will go back to their roles and most club men are far more concerned about their clubs anyway. Yet there is a massive boost to underage football by having a good county team with well known players.
Like hundreds of others, I will continue to be involved at underage level but whether the manager of the Meath senior team is from Trim or Timbuktu will make no difference to me if Meath could win the All-Ireland.