Managerial turmoil in Galway and Mayo has diminished both counties
Published 24/10/2015 | 02:30
It wasn't meant to be like this for Galway and Mayo. When, inside 24 hours over the first weekend in September, each enjoyed periods which suggested that their All-Ireland torment was coming to an end, nobody could have predicted the violent storms that were gathering off the west coast.
Mayo led Dublin by four points after 53 minutes of the All-Ireland semi-final replay, playing very much like a team that would not only win the game but also see the All-Ireland journey through to a successful conclusion in the final against Kerry.
A day later, Galway led the hurling final by four points after 29 minutes, having outscored Kilkenny by 0-7 to 0-1 over the previous 12 minutes.
Mayo's collapse in the final quarter (Dublin outscored them by 3-4 to 0-2) and Galway's implosion in the second half (they scored only 0-4 in normal time) left both counties with another grim reminder of the fragility which continues to afflict them.
Quite why that is the case has remained an enduring mystery but, this time at least, the players were evidently not prepared to accept that it had anything to do with them.
Plans for a mutiny were hatched and, in Mayo's case, quickly executed. Joint-managers Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly didn't fight back, resigning after giving an account of the year to the Mayo County Board executive.
According to board chairman Mike Connelly (Noel's brother), executive members were "getting emotional and tears were flowing down their faces."
The process of finding a new manager is under way, with November 1 the deadline for submitting nominations.
The situation is somewhat different and potentially more problematical in Galway. The rebellion against Anthony Cunningham, who was ratified as manager for another year in late September, lacked the unity of the Mayo onslaught.
That's because there are different strands of opinion within the dressing-room. They range from an older group, whose days in the maroon-and-white are probably numbered anyway, to the mid-tier, who are concerned that the years are slipping by without a visit from Liam MacCarthy, to the relative newcomers, many of whom were brought in by Cunningham over the last two seasons.
Unlike Holmes and Connelly in Mayo, he has held his ground, effectively moving the process to the next stage.
The county board, whose decision to press ahead so quickly with Cunningham's ratification amid rumblings of discontent was ill-advised, has sought the assistance of a mediator "in order to resolve this impasse", as their statement put it.
This has now become very dangerous territory for Galway hurling. The process is dragging on and, as history has shown in this type of situation, the longer the search for a solution, the greater the capacity for a major explosion.
Mediation in any walk of life works when the issues involved are relatively easy to identify. That is not the case in Galway, which is unsurprising, given the different strand profiles in the squad.
What's beyond dispute is that if Galway had won the All-Ireland title, there would have been no heave against Cunningham.
Apart from the fact that it would have looked beyond ridiculous to turn on a manager who had presided over the county's first All-Ireland win since 1988, the squad would be far too busy savouring the success to organise a coup.
In many respects, that's the weakness in their case. Leading 0-12 to 1-5 after 29 minutes and by 0-14 to 1-8 at half-time against Kilkenny, the All-Ireland final was there to be won.
And even if a team had no management, they would be expected to score more than four points (Joe Canning's goal came in the 71st minute) in second half normal time.
Even then, two of the points came from sub defender David Collins and a third from a Canning free, leaving Conor Whelan's point as the only score delivered from open play by a Galway attacker. In effect, an 18-year old was not only the only forward to score from play, he was the only one to really take the challenge to the Kilkenny defence.
For the group, the second half was a power failure of epic proportions. The rebels can argue that it's unfair to highlight one specific period of a game as an example of the team's shortcomings but it's certainly not the first time that type of fade-out has happened. Indeed, there have been several occasions over recent years when Galway caved in, having put themselves in a position to win a game.
Of course, management has to take its share of responsibility for that too, since problem-solving in all areas is one of its prime functions.
The difficulty now centres on what happens if the so-called mediation doesn't work.
Will Cunningham attempt to continue as if nothing has happened? If so, will the players escalate the action into all-out strike? And what, if any, impact will the board, which haven't exactly shone so far, have?
There are lots of Galway hurling people dismayed by the mediation plan. There's a view that a better route would be to put squad and management in the same room, let feathers fly and see where it ended.
It might look like a rather crude kill-or-cure solution, but there's as much chance of it working as there is in formal mediation.
Indeed, the potential for an unsatisfactory outcome is greater with the latter option, since an agreement could fall apart under the first signs of pressure. Indeed, it might come as early as next spring if Galway lost a few league games.
The irony of the Galway and Mayo rebellions is that their rivals are looking on in total surprise.
Whatever the background, Galway hurlers reached the All-Ireland final for the second time in four seasons while Mayo returned to the football semi-final, where they lost to the eventual champions, in a replay. Quite how unrest in either camp with help advance the cause is known only to those who orchestrated it, assuming of course that it wasn't a case of simply blaming others for their own failures.
This is a big club weekend in both counties with Mayo staging their football final tomorrow while Galway stage their intermediate semi-finals today (four of the All-Ireland starting 15 are involved) and the senior semi-finals tomorrow.
However good the games may be, the post-match chats will dwell more on the managerial mayhem. It's diminishing both counties.