Royal bear pit awaits 'Banty'
Published 02/11/2010 | 05:00
HANDS up if you know who managed the Meath footballers before Sean Boylan?
That's a 12-pointer to test even 'Memory Man' Jimmy Magee, and that alone indicates just how the Dunboyne herbalist dominated the Royals' football fortunes in his 23-year reign and how high a barometer he has left in his wake.
Boylan was relatively unknown and a confirmed 'hurling man' when he was Meath's surprise football appointment in 1982, but he subsequently brought them to seven All-Ireland finals and four NFL finals, winning four senior All-Irelands and setting a stellar standard to which the county still aspires.
That helps explains why, since Boylan stepped down after a qualifier defeat by Cavan in July 2005, Meath have already gone through three managers and why there is so much interest now in who will succeed Eamonn O'Brien at tomorrow night's county board meeting.
Even Boylan, from 2001 onwards, had to state his case annually in an interview for the Meath job.
O'Brien had already soldiered in the trenches as one of his selectors from 1995 to 2006, but his appointment two years ago was itself not without controversy.
Former Westmeath and current Carlow boss Luke Dempsey was tipped to get the job first but pulled out when his candidacy was not endorsed, reportedly because of a split in the committee. Not even winning the Leinster title this year, albeit in controversial circumstances, was enough to save O'Brien whose future was decided by a confidence vote by local clubs this autumn.
This is the football bear pit into which Seamus McEnaney is now tipped to step, after six years managing his native Monaghan. His experience as Farney boss means he should be wily enough to know exactly how stratospheric the expectations will be.
Up until this week, Meath were one of six football counties -- along with Kerry, Cork, Dublin, Tyrone and Down -- who had never crossed their own borders for a senior manager, so that huge and unprecedented leap of faith will inevitably heap even more pressure on him. But the Corduff man clearly wants the job.
As Monaghan boss, 'Banty' always wore his heart on his sleeve, as demonstrated by his memorable quote about having "my heart ripped out without surgery" when they were pipped by Kerry by a point in the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final, arguably their finest performance of his tenure.
McEnaney clearly has the necessary street smarts to survive in the tough world of GAA politics.
When the Monaghan board sought nominations for his job this autumn, it was clear he was going to face a stiff challenge locally, and he walked away. And in seeking the Meath job, he vitally aligned himself with a popular local figure by joining forces with former county star Liam Harnan, who managed Skyrne to the county senior title this year. McEnaney already arrived with two big names in his proposed back-room team.
Ex-Armagh and Kildare selector Paul Grimley and strength and conditioning coach Martin McElkennon were also both involved in his Monaghan back-room team when the Farney reached the Ulster final last summer for the second time in his reign. But they, too, are 'outsiders' and Harnan's involvement gave McEnaney's management bid some key local presence to help fight off the strong challenge of local man Gerry Cooney.
It is believed that McEnaney and Harnan will now be put forward for nomination after clinching the recommendation with an impressive final presentation last Friday, which included agreeing to bring in several more locals to fill the minor roles in their back-room team.
Back in 1997, Cooney managed a Meath U-21 team that featured Darren Fay, Mark O'Reilly and Ollie Murphy to an All-Ireland final (lost to Derry) and 12 months later guided Dunboyne to a first Meath SFC title.
He was also part of Kevin Kilmurray's management team in Offaly in 2005 and 2006 and though he may not yet have a high profile nationally, his Meath candidacy gathered serious momentum when he enlisted some big local names.
He had already recruited Andy McEntee (younger brother of Gerry) and former All-Ireland winner Finian Murtagh, and getting former All Star full-back Fay to join his prospective back-room team was believed to have seriously increased his chances of getting the job, especially as all three managed senior club teams in Meath this season.
Yet, it is now 'Banty' who has moved into poll position, apparently after another series of interviews late last week with the three-man appointment committee.