Wednesday 26 October 2016

Paying the price for stupid decisions

Eamonn Sweeney

Published 10/04/2016 | 17:00

'Cleary (pictured) had a track record of success at under 21 level, where he had worked with many of the players on the senior panel.' Photo: Sportsfile
'Cleary (pictured) had a track record of success at under 21 level, where he had worked with many of the players on the senior panel.' Photo: Sportsfile

The great Irish poet, and recovering alcoholic, Derek Mahon, once wrote: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life/Tell that to your liver; tell that to your ex-wife." It's a neat rejoinder to the idea that no matter what you've done there's always the possibility of wiping the slate clean and starting from square one.

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In reality things are a bit more complicated than the nostrum subverted by Mahon suggests. John McGahern's recurring line in his story The Beginning of an Idea, "One is always punished for behaving stupidly," is probably nearer the mark.

That's certainly how it's worked out for two of my favourite teams, Sligo Rovers and the Cork senior footballers. Last week the former found themselves rooted to the bottom of the League of Ireland Premier Division, while the latter were relegated from Division 1 of the National Football League. The sad thing is that it didn't take a genius to see the downfall of either team coming from a long way out.

Both teams are currently paying the price for terrible decisions made a couple of years back. In Cork's case the original sin is the failure to appoint John Cleary as Conor Counihan's successor after the 2013 championship. Cleary had a track record of success at under 21 level, where he had worked with many of the players on the senior panel. Among other things, his sides had the invaluable knack of beating Kerry. The obvious thing for the Rebels to do was follow the lead of Dublin, who'd moved Jim Gavin up from under 21 to senior level.

Instead they plumped for Brian Cuthbert, whose USP seemed to be the belief, held by very few other people outside the county board, that players could combine inter-county hurling and football. Two inconsistent years followed and culminated in last year's qualifier debacle against Kildare. Cleary was once again mentioned as favourite for the job before being forced to jump through sufficient hoops to make him throw his hat at it. Instead it went to Peadar Healy, who's been getting plenty of stick on the basis that Cuthbert was at least able to win league games.

Yet Healy is not entirely to blame. Cork seemed directionless and unsettled for much of his predecessor's reign. There was little foundation for the new man to build on. When Cuthbert took over, Cork looked like they might be in a position to overtake Kerry in Munster and even challenge Dublin. Nobody in the county thinks in such terms now.

Sligo Rovers sealed their fate when sacking Ian Baraclough, who'd brought the club a first league title in 36 years. So much water has passed under the bridge since then it seems scarcely believable that this discreditable episode occurred less than two years ago. In the 20 months since, Rovers have had, including caretakers, six different managers. My feelings on the matter can perhaps be best summed up by the title Kingsley Amis once suggested to Robert Conquest when his friend was republishing his book on Soviet Russia, The Great Terror, "I told you so, you fucking fools."

There's certainly an irony in the fact that since sacking Baraclough on the grounds that the fifth place his team occupied at the time wasn't worthy of such a big club, Rovers have never been higher than fifth and have spent a lot of time much lower than that. Last year they avoided a relegation play-off by two points after sacking Owen Heary, denying they'd sacked him, ringing a TV programme to claim he'd just resigned live on air and launching an appeal for money from supporters to enable the club to keep going.

The supporters, including one of my own family, gave because that's the kind of people they are.

There was a much improved performance against St Pat's on Friday night but the fact remains that Rovers have played seven league games and won none of them. They have three goals and four points which wouldn't even be a good score in a Gaelic football match.

Dave Robertson and Peadar Healy will probably come in for plenty of criticism before the season ends. But they deserve some sympathy. The rods for their backs were cut long ago.

Sunday Indo Sport

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