Eugene McGee: The players should not pay price for Managerial duck shoot
Published 13/09/2010 | 05:00
With each passing year, the role of county team managers continues to grow -- they are THE big wigs in the GAA system. God be with the days when the county secretary or chairman was the person everybody associated with a particular county because they were the clear leaders of the GAA -- for better or worse -- and were recognised as Mr GAA in that county.
People such as Tipperary secretary Tommy Barrett, Kilkenny's Paddy Grace, John Dunne from Galway and John Dowling of Offaly were the public faces of their respective counties when managers, or trainers as they were then called, were seen but rarely heard.
And it was always 'Mr' GAA in those days because the notion of a female county secretary, such as Kathleen O'Neill in Kildare and Margaret Doyle in Wexford at present, was unheard of -- the role of GAA women in those times was mainly to wash the jerseys for the local club and make tea and sandwiches when required.
But nowadays, it's the team managers who dominate public opinion in every county and we can see that's clearly the case in the closing stages of the All-Ireland series.
Hands up out there the number of you who can tell me the name of the Down county chairman or secretary. Not many, I am sure -- except in Co Down. The same could be said for Tipperary last week and most other counties as well. But everybody knows about James McCartan, Liam Sheedy, Conor Counihan and, of course, Brian Cody. Even county managers who have never won a decent trophy for their team are given film-star treatment -- particularly those who migrate from one county to another.
The duck shooting season started on September 1, but there's also an open season for shooting managers and several had already departed before the first day of September. That particular sport seems to start earlier each year -- and we've even had managers shot down in spring time in recent years. Manager watching, or should that be manager baiting, is a favourite pastime at this time of year.
The current sagas involving Mayo, Galway, Meath, Wicklow, Derry and Monaghan are particularly eye-catching as they involve some of the highest-profile managers of recent years in John O'Mahony, Seamus McEnaney, Eamonn O'Brien and Joe Kernan, who have all departed the scene, as well as the greatest of them all, Mick O'Dwyer, whose CV is being avidly studied in several counties, it seems. And even winning a provincial championship does not satisfy the critics nowadays either.
Finance, or more precisely the lack of it, is becoming a major factor in picking team managers. It's not the expenses attached to the manager himself that are the only problem, but the addition of several 'assistants' by many managers. This is what caused the break-up with Galway and Joe Kernan and several other county boards are also taking a hard line on money.
We now have managerial packages which can include several people being recruited by the manager, apparently to help in the onerous task of preparing a football team. And in Monaghan last year, for example, Seamus McEnaney recruited Martin McElkennon, who had previously worked as a coach with Tyrone and Cavan. He also got Paul Grimley, Joe Kernan's right-hand man in the Armagh glory days, who also worked with Kieran McGeeney in Kildare.
In Laois recently, Justin McNulty, another former Armagh All-Ireland winner, was appointed manager and he has already recruited Barry Solan, who has a degree in Sports Science, as trainer and Paul Clancy, who won two All-Irelands with Galway, as a selector. People in the O'Moore County will be glad to know that one Laois-based selector will join that 'package'. The three non-natives will presumably be paid expenses by Laois County Board, so the package will certainly be a lot more than a manager operating on his own with assistance from Laois people. This is the trend nowadays and it's certainly sending financial shockwaves through many county boards.
But I often wonder what sort of job specification county boards use when they appoint managers. Do they just go on reputations as former players? Or are they questioned about their system of playing the game as regards style? Because most counties have their own particular traits about playing the game -- and do these 'travelling managers' take this into account?
In that context, I was very interested in comments made by Liam O'Neill, a former Mayo team manager from the 1980s, who now lives and coaches in California. Liam questions if counties pay any attention to helping young players progress systematically in their years from 16 to 21.
"It's not unusual to have players on the U-16 team go through at least six managers up to the time they finish at U-21 level," he said. "During this formative period they are subjected to mixed messages on all levels, especially in tactics and execution in the match setting, leading to confusion on the part of the young players.
"With nowhere to go for advice, their careers are in the hands of the next manager, voted in, leading to even further confusion. I believe a relatively quick way to streamline player development is to get everyone on the same well-designed plan, communicating and implementing a strategic, common programme".
This is eminently sound thinking because we all know players who have been coached by five or six different managers during their teenage years, all with different ways of playing the game and so confused do many of these youngsters become, that they often walk away in disgust in their late teens.
I wonder how many county boards think of matters like this when they are appointing team managers? Very few I would venture to say and the merry-go-round continues year after year with no appreciable improvement in the senior county team.
How many millions of euros are spent, say over a 10-year period, on these underage teams on coaching that lacks overall direction suited to the various counties?
I hate to mention the word 'Fás' but the similarities between that body's past approach to training and how many county boards spend their money on training are very similar. Money wasted under any guise is still wastage and many county boards need to wake up and examine what exactly money spent on training and coaching is meant to achieve.