Eugene McGee: 'Outsider' option rarely a fast-track to success
FOR the first time in the history of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, which kicked-off in earnest yesterday, over half the county teams are managed by outsiders -- that is people who were not natives of the particular counties.
In Leinster only five counties have native managers -- Louth, Meath, Dublin, Laois and Carlow.
In Connacht there's only two -- Mayo and Roscommon.
In Munster, once again only two counties, Cork and Kerry, have managers from their own counties.
Ulster, as usual, is somewhat different as six of their managers are home bred -- Tyrone, Down, Fermanagh, Donegal, Derry and Monaghan.
And if we dig a bit deeper, we find that some of the home-managed counties did have outside supremos previously, such as Donegal, Laois, Mayo, Roscommon, Fermanagh, Louth, Monaghan, Derry and Carlow.
All that means that the only counties not to have had outside managers at some stage in the past 35 years are Meath, Dublin, Kerry, Cork, Tyrone and Down.
This is an amazing statistic when we consider the high price GAA people attribute to local loyalties and pride in their county -- or so we are all led to believe. Around 26 counties have opted to turn their backs on local talent when picking their county team manager. So much for all the hype about love of club and county in the GAA.
If we were to get down to similar statistics at club level all over Ireland, we can be sure that hundreds of clubs are managed by people who are not natives of the parish teams involved.
I don't see much wrong with this development if it helps club or county teams to improve their station in GAA life and bring joy and satisfaction to hundreds of thousands of GAA followers.
What GAA person from Kildare or Laois did not celebrate as never before when Mick O'Dwyer coaxed Leinster championships out of these counties?
And before Clare hurlers made the All-Ireland breakthrough under Ger Loughnane, it was the Clare footballers under John Maughan who caused one of the most sensational results of all time when winning the Munster title in the early 90s, a feat that was matched in 1994 when Leitrim won the Connacht final for the first time since 1927 under John O'Mahony.
The GAA was over a hundred years old before Westmeath managed to win their first Leinster title under the tutelage of Paidi O Se and Offaly have won most of their football and hurling All-Irelands since 1971 under outside managers.
That very tribalism and loyalty to one's local place can often be the catalyst for the emergence of outside managers at club and county level. Internal rows and divisions are part and parcel of GAA life and sometimes, when local affairs get out of hand, only an outsider can overcome the various factions and impose a level of neutrality that gets all players uniting under the banner of the county team.
O'Dwyer, of course, has been the trend-setter when it comes to outside managers. I am sure when he was enjoying a very long and successful career as a Kerry footballer and later, being even more successful when managing the Kingdom senior team to a staggering eight All-Irelands in 12 years, he never imagined that he would end up being manager of three different counties -- Kildare, Laois and Wicklow.
But even with his reputation there were mutterings in Kerry as the great side of the 70s and 80s began a natural decline, so O'Dwyer was found to be dispensable. However, look at the enjoyment and satisfaction he has achieved subsequently, which clearly makes him an outstanding manager, regardless of what county he is involved with.
When we talk about outside managers, there is always the question of such managers being paid. It appears that the handful of counties, who have always used home-grown managers, do not pay money to managers over and above the official GAA allowance.
But the majority of outside managers do get paid anything between €40,000 to €80,000 in 'expenses' per year.
The GAA, of course, maintains that this is against their laws and the current president Christy Cooney is making very strong statements about his intention to do away with the practice. Well, Eamon de Valera spent about 40 years claiming that he would drain the River Shannon and I reckon that Christy Cooney has about the same chance of abolishing illegal payments to outside managers.
Maybe it is time to concentrate more on what these managers contribute to the GAA in the overall sense and worry less about the money they are supposed to be getting.
There is no doubt that many, many county teams have improved greatly by the increased levels of organisation, discipline, coaching and mental and physical fitness that a lot of these managers have inculcated.
Several counties have improved their status in the inter-county system, Tipperary and Antrim being the best examples in the last few years with John Evans and Liam 'Baker' Bradley respectively.
Ulster minnows Antrim, in particular, are a wonderful example of an outsider coming in and getting rid of a lot of the internal feuding that wrecked their football team for many decades.
I am sure the current Antrim players are deeply appreciative of this development.
However, despite the undoubted improvements made by many outside managers, only two have managed counties to All-Ireland success. And if we look at the six counties that have never used outside managers, we find that between them they have won almost 30 All-Ireland titles since 1975, while just three were won by the two outsiders.
Actions certainly speak louder than words on this particular issue.