Wednesday 7 December 2016

He was slated for questioning players commitment but where are Tom Cribbin's critics now?

Westmeath manager was accused in April of being naive over comments about some players

Published 01/07/2015 | 02:30

Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin
Westmeath manager Tom Cribbin

When Tom Cribbin publicly questioned the attitude of some Westmeath players after a seven-point defeat by Roscommon in their final Allianz League game opened the exit door from Division 2 in April , there were plenty of takers for the opinion that he had acted naively.

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Pundits of various hues tut-tutted, pointing out that the clever managerial set, which, curiously, always appear to hail from the successful counties, would never be so loose-tongued. No, they would have kept it in-house. But then, they are all so ultra-smart.

That they are blessed with plentiful resources, complete with all the advantages that bestows, tends to be ignored in favour of the shallow consensus that every All-Ireland-winning manager is a genius, whereas those dealing with more modest supplies are just game triers.

And if one of the latter group remarks that some of his players need to buck up, he's reminded that the really astute boys operate on a much more informed basis, even if all they may have done is get lucky enough to manage better players.

Frustrated

Cribbin's comments that "some big players are not standing up" came after Westmeath had lost four successive games to Meath, Down, Cavan and Roscommon on a combined scoreline of 9-48 to 1-36.

He was deeply frustrated by what he regarded as underachieving by a group of players whose skills he has lionised since arriving in Westmeath.

Two interesting aspects stood out for me from a few conversations I had with Cribbin during the league.

One: he believed that Westmeath had a huge amount of top-class talent. Two: he was impatient with himself for not getting the structure right more quickly.

But then, he was a late appointment last year so it was always going to take time to work things out. He believed that some of Westmeath's difficulties during the league were caused by imbalances on the team.

They, in turn, resulted from him having to cram a lot of information about players into a short space of time, with a view to getting the balance right.

Those with a long memory will recall that Laois also had a poor league campaign in Cribbin's first season in charge (1998/'99). A few months later, a much-improved team were robbed of a place in the Leinster final when Dublin equalised in the final seconds with a disputed point by Ian Robertson, who appeared to have picked the ball off the ground.

As with Westmeath this year, Cribbin had presided over a major improvement between league and championship. A year later, Laois were fancied to make more progress but lost to Westmeath in the Leinster quarter-final. There were no second chances back then and, with the Laois public unable to swallow losing to Westmeath, Cribbin resigned.

A year later, Westmeath ran Meath - then a major force - to a point in Leinster and drew with them in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Westmeath were on the way up in 2000 but instead of recognising it, Laois blamed Cribbin and were soon back in the managerial market.

No one knows where the new Westmeath story will take the county but right now it is feeling better about itself than at any time since winning the 2004 Leinster final.

Realistically, Westmeath's prospects of beating Dublin are modest but, whatever happens, the 2015 season will have enriched the county. After all, Westmeath reached the Leinster final on only three previous occasions and, prior to last Sunday, had never beaten Meath in the championship.

The turnaround since the league has been quite remarkable. Westmeath scored a total of 4-75 in seven league games (average 12.4pts) but have posted 7-54 (average 2-19) in their three championship games so far.

They won the 2004 Leinster title by scoring an average of 0-14 in five games (they scored no goal in four of them), but then their defence was ultra-secure.

The scene was much different in Leinster back then, not least that Dublin weren't going well, whereas they are now at their best since the 1970s.

Whether Cribbin can devise a system to disrupt Dublin and whether his players succeed in executing it remains to be seen. In any event, it's a great time for Westmeath and a manager who, as he puts it himself, wears his heart on his sleeve.

Thankfully, people like him can win too.

Irish Independent

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