Monday 22 December 2014

Lessons in management

Published 05/01/2009 | 00:00

Oliver Goldsmith was never an avid follower of football or hurling, but one could be forgiven for applying his lines above about the schoolmaster from 'The Deserted Village' to the many teachers who, over the years, have used their skills to good advantage when they became managers of intercounty teams.

It is an undoubted fact that more teachers are in charge of football and hurling teams at county level than from any other walk of life and the past decade or so has proved this. For instance, of the last 11 All-Ireland football championships, no less than seven have been under the guidance of teachers, past or present.

Mickey Harte had three successes with Tyrone while Jack O'Connor and John O'Mahony both had two terms as winning All-Ireland managers. In hurling, eight of the last 10 All-Irelands were guided by teachers with Brian Cody (6), Donal O'Grady and John Allen.

The three football managers and Cody are still in managerial positions and are joined by Eamon McEneaney, Liam Sammon, Luke Dempsey, Richie Connor, Mickey Moran, Glenn Ryan, John Morrison, Peter McDonnell, Malachy O'Rourke and Mickey 'Ned' 'O'Sullivan; all current managers who are or have been teachers.

Pivotal

Fr Tommy Maher was the first great coach of modern hurling, while Cody and Ger Loughnane have won a bagful of All-Irelands between them. Michael Bond was a teacher who snatched an All-Ireland for Offaly while Dermot Healy, who was pivotal with Andy Gallagher in Offaly's hurling breakthrough, was in charge of many winning colleges' teams with St Kieran's, Kilkenny. Billy Morgan, twice an All-Ireland-winning manager, Peter McGinnity (Leitrim), Art McRory, Pete McGrath (who won two All-Irelands with Down in 1991 and '94), Peter Ford with Sligo and Galway, John Tobin (Roscommon), Declan Rowley (Leitrim and Longford), Padraig Nolan (Offaly and Kildare), Brian McIver (Donegal), Pat Fleury, (Offaly), Eamon O'Donoghue (Kildare), Paddy Kerr (Monaghan), Denis Connerton (Longford), John O'Keeffe (Kerry), Malachy O'Rourke (Fermanagh), Sean McCague (Monaghan), Jim McKeever and Phil Stuart (Derry), Peter McDonnell (Armagh), Jody Gormley (Antrim), John Morrison, (Leitrim, Mayo and others), and many more have all been inter-county managers who qualified as teachers at primary or secondary level.

Advantages

No other profession has provided as many managers all through the years as teachers, but then they do have some in-built advantages. For a start, they have more time away from their normal work (I nearly said 'free time' there) during the course of the year, which greatly facilitates the role of team manager.

Hardly a coincidence that Brian Cody, Ger Loughnane, John Allen, Cyril Farrell, Donal O'Grady, Mickey Harte, John O'Mahony, Jack O'Connor, Billy Morgan and Pete McGrath between them have master-minded All-Ireland victories nearly 25 times in the past 20 years, when one considers that they had eight to 10 weeks or more off school in summertime and several other long breaks throughout the year.

Another advantage that most teachers have is an element of psychology as part of their own training to be a teacher. Many of the teachers I have known as managers were more than capable of handling the psychological needs of their players without calling in specialised sports psychologists, as so many managers feel obliged to do nowadays.

Teachers are also trained to be good communicators and to be able to explain the science of learning as part of their career preparations. These are all important components of management so it is no coincidence so many teachers become football and hurling managers/coaches.

It is acknowledged in any team sport that respect is a crucial factor in the make-up of a team manager. Traditionally of course in Ireland, the teachers always engendered, or in many cases at secondary school level imposed, respect.

Modern society has seen a lot of that respect evaporate just as it has for priests and gardai in many cases. But being a teacher, especially in a secondary school, is still a huge plus in terms of gaining respect in a GAA dressing room and the results of the past 25 years at the highest level certainly bear that out.

Brian Cody must be considered the master, no pun intended, in that area and the respect he gets from Kilkenny players is a vital ingredient in their modern day success.

A big plus for nearly all the teachers who become inter-county managers, is that they have had a successful training period while in charge of secondary schools in particular. This allows the young teacher to learn the art of team management on a gradual basis and to master the critical areas of communication and motivation.

Jack O'Connor delivered a typical example of that progression when he trained Colaiste na Sceilige and brought them from nowhere to a colleges final in 2001/'02 and also a semi-final in 2002/03.

The GAA should be very grateful for the availability of so many teachers as inter-county managers because they invariably set high standards of discipline and general behaviour that is often lacking in some other county teams.

No wonder they have won so many All-Irelands in modern times.

P.S. In the interests of objectivity I have to admit that, for a brief period, I too was a schoolteacher!

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