McCartan and McGeeney reward faith placed in rookie managers
OF all the things that have changed in football, perhaps the role of the manager has seen the biggest change of all. Every few years there seems to be a major shift in the footballing landscape, whether it's tactics, training methods, diets or sports psychologists.
Last weekend showed that the qualifications for an inter-county football manager have changed greatly. Gone are the days when a well-regarded retired footballer would be handed the reins of the county side, when a manager's job was handed over as a mark of respect, as opposed to any great grand plan for the development of football.
Kildare and Down took something of a risk in appointing Kieran McGeeney and James McCartan. Neither man had a great deal of experience but they have obviously struck a chord with their players.
We had a similar set-up in Sligo when Kevin Walsh was appointed. He was also previously unproven at inter-county level but all three men have something in common -- they have proven themselves at the highest level as players.
When I started out first, managers were autocratic and their word was final. Nowadays, managers are really more like facilitators. Their job is to create the right kind of environment for the players to get the best from themselves. And that's where Walsh, McCartan and McGeeney's strengths lie. They are all young men (McGeeney is actually younger than one of his players -- Anthony Rainbow) and they have first-hand experience of the preparation a player puts in.
Their experience is relative to their panel. McGeeney was ferociously dedicated as a player and seems to have instilled that in Kildare, while McCartan has added a toughness to Down that wasn't there before.
Kevin has that sort of effect in our dressing-room. Most pre-match or half-time speeches are the same across the GAA universe but Kevin has a way of relating his experiences as a player to us. It's a no frills, no bulls**t approach that players respond to.
McCartan came into our dressing-room after Down beat us in the qualifiers. He spoke about how them beating us so easily was one of the worst things that could have happened to his side, because Down teams can easily get ahead of themselves. It was disarmingly honest, but despite his lack of experience, he knew exactly what was required for Down to progress, and that's exactly what he did.
Nowadays, managers also tend to surround themselves with the right kind of people. McCartan has Paddy Tally and Brian McIver, McGeeney had Paul Grimley for his first two years and Kevin has Dessie Sloyan who knows us and Sligo football inside out.
It's hard to imagine the managers of 15 or 20 years ago compiling the dossiers of information that we have now. Kevin has a great attention to detail in that way, and Tommy Breheny was similar. We'd be going out armed with every piece of information that could give you any sort of an edge, like where kick-outs might be going or a player's preferred move. It was those little touches that make all the difference and make you feel that the effort you are putting in is worthwhile.
In terms of preparation, Gaelic football has taken a quantum leap forward. I can remember one of my early training sessions with Sligo where I was running up a sand dune with about 16st of our former midfielder Shane Tully on my back. Around the same time, there was reports of Mayo pushing cars around the car park at their training. It was the kind of stuff that would make team physios and doctors nowadays cringe but that was the trend at the time.
For Down, Kildare and ourselves, appointing a lesser-known manager has reaped rewards and it might make counties look at the less obvious choices for the hot-seat this winter. It's one trend that looks set to stick around for a little while yet.