Eugene McGee: Having more 'mentors' than players can be counter-productive
Funny, farcical and futile is about the best description for some of the wonderful and weird appointments being made or proposed as members of the various inter-county backroom teams of late.
Up to recent times county teams had a manager, a trainer and a handful of selectors as well as medical people and possibly access to a sports psychologist. Now it's different and, led by Dublin, who are said to have about 20 attached to their backroom team, the rest of the counties, almost regardless of the actual ability of the teams, seem determined to imitate the Dubs and start loading their backrooms with all sorts of experts, some of whom may know very little about Gaelic football.
This week for instance the Antrim football manager Frank Fitzsimons was in ecstasy when he announced that a former world champion boxer Brian Magee would be joining the Antrim set-up. Other boxers Bernard Dunne and Michael Carruth have filled similar roles.
Now there is word that former Wexford and Kildare football boss Jason Ryan may be slipping into the Tipperary hurling backroom team. A few years ago Tipperary under Eamon O'Shea brought in former Armagh footballer Kieran McGeeney as 'performance consultant' in the Tipp hurling set-up. Indeed several of that Armagh All-Ireland team of 2002 have tried their hand at county team management with teams other than their own county such as McGeeney with Kildare, Justin McNulty with Laois and Aidan O'Rourke with Louth as well as recent Down manager Jim McCorry. Lately the name of Tony McEntee of that 2002 team has been associated with Mayo but maybe with the recent history of that county we should take that with a grain of salt.
The Armagh graduates are but some examples of former star players struggling when they assume county managers' roles.
Also announced this week was the appointment of former Derry player and manager Paddy Crozier as assistant to Louth manager Colin Kelly. What all these manoeuvrings mean is that backroom teams are now to be the cornerstone of preparing county teams regardless of cost, geographical location or number of people involved and, crucially, the quality of some of the appointees.
Looking around at the last few years, I can see hardly any improvements brought about by the orgy of backroom staff now in vogue in so many counties. I read recently that Mayo spent something like €700,000 one year on team preparations and still no All-Ireland.
I wonder if the day will ever come when someone carries out an annual cost analysis benefit of these huge sums being spent by counties, most of whom are unable to afford these extravagant 'expenses'. It seems as if the GAA at provincial council and Central Council level is unable to have any influence on backroom teams and their cost. GAA teams and players, according to the Official Guide, are amateurs. Like the Official Guide itself, that view is totally outdated.
It would be wrong of course to run down these recent developments per se as just an attempt to stay stuck in the past. Most training aspects of football have vastly improved, players are being far better looked after, and the profile of players even from weak counties has been greatly enhanced and all that is good. What must be of concern is the quality rather than the quantity of some of the new procedures. I have witnessed a goalkeeping coach attached to a county football team whose own playing career in that position was quite inferior to the goalkeepers he was coaching. The same often applied to free-taking coaches even though there are very few of those being used.
It is undeniable that the more people providing back-up to the manager the greater the chance of that man having his control reduced. In every group there are 'pets', players who often favour another backroom member over the manager because they have a better relationship. When things are not going well in the camp some players will turn to someone other than the manager for help. I have known several managers who experienced this though not the strong, successful ones such as Gavin, Fitzmaurice, Cody or McGuinness.
So large backroom teams can be risky as we saw in Mayo and Galway recently. Player power can work both ways within a GAA camp! When there are nearly as many backroom staff in the dressing room as there are players maybe it is time to call a halt.
And there now seems to be an elite band of experts involved with the top teams only whose reputations equal those of the manager. A few years ago I read that there was controversy in Australian Rules because the Strength and Conditioning (S&C) people were earning nearly as much as the managers.
Maybe we are heading the same way in the GAA. Just remember please, the game is still called football.