Royals stirring up old hostilities
Seamus McEnaney is non-committal about his future as Meath football manager, says Damian Lawlor
The tone for last Monday night's meeting of Meath County Board was set with the news that Páirc Tailteann's capacity could be reduced to as little as 10,000 for championship games next year unless proper terraces are installed in place of the grass banks.
As the meeting moved through the agenda, the mood certainly didn't improve much.
During a discussion on the senior footballers, delegates were told that Seamus McEnaney is willing to continue as manager in 2012.
But delegates requested that McEnaney be invited to address the September board meeting. They wanted an explanation as to why two of his selectors -- Liam Harnan and Barry Callaghan -- quit in the middle of the season and also requested that he would roll out detailed plans for the 2012 campaign. One club officer reminded everyone that Seán Boylan frequently came in to address the board during his reign, so he couldn't see any reason why McEnaney wouldn't adopt a similar policy.
Meath's Central Council representative Brendan Cummins suggested it was important that the clubs and supporters know why the pair quit their roles. "Seamus McEnaney's appointment was dependent on Liam Harnan being the assistant manager," said Cummins. Francis Flynn however suggested that too much was being made of the matter, adding "the two men could not work with the manager and the same thing could happen with two other selectors next year."
Technically, Cummins has a point. The terms of his appointment have changed. In fact, the Dunderry and Moynalvey delegates, the clubs of Callaghan and Harnan respectively, were quick to state that the two former selectors were willing to make statements. All of this before another club officer enquired if it would be possible for McEnaney to "come in and address the delegates about his plans for 2012".
But McEnaney took the job on a three-year basis with a review only coming into place after year two. The issue of the two selectors hardly seems relevant at this point. The truth is that the three men had little in common when it came to preparing a team -- that's life in any team environment.
What is the point in going back and hacking at old sores? Very few managers in the country have to do that, so why should McEnaney? Would yet another change at the helm really help the county team when the players are happy with things as they are?
McEnaney wants to go back but he'll have to be given space. He was at a junior championship match last Friday week sourcing new talent and gave up three evenings last week to meet the players individually, spending hours discussing and reviewing the season just gone. At these meetings he drilled home what was required of them next year and left them in no doubt that the bar had to be raised. The fear among players, who are keen for him to return, is that he'll walk if the constant behind-the-scenes squabbling and niggling continues to interfere with his plans. When contacted by the Sunday Independent, McEnaney was non-committal on his future.
"I have met the players this week and spoken to them individually and it was great to meet them," he said. "It was a very thorough process and I also intend meeting with my backroom within the next 10 days and speaking to the county board executive as well. I will make a decision on the back of those meetings. Those talks will have to show that everyone is singing off the same hymn sheet before there is an agreement between the various parties for the team management to continue for another year."
Overall, the players are in favour of him staying on and have huge time for his coaches Paul Grimley and Martin McElkannon. McEnaney embraces modern-day management techniques and is not afraid to use symbols, wristbands and catchphrases to help motivate his men. Late in the season, a laundry service was provided for players where their training gear was washed and waiting on a peg when they returned for the next session.
"If they keep pushing Banty we'll be back to square one again, looking for another new manager and that will do us no good at all," said one club officer. "These are the same people who got rid of Eamonn O'Brien after he delivered a Leinster title. I know what I'd be saying to them."
While McEnaney's reign has been at times stormy, not being helped by a terrible league campaign, he's had much to put up with. The team is way off winning an All-Ireland title and would do well to claim a provincial crown in the near future given the progress of Dublin and Kildare.
It seems like obstacle after obstacle is being cast in the manager's way. Last winter, the board took the unprecedented step of publishing that McEnaney and his backroom team would cost €11,000 per month. But the Monaghan man instigated cost-cutting measures to help alleviate board concerns. For instance, physio fees were to be reduced by €12,000, and masseur costs were to be slashed by €8,000. In addition, players were instructed not to swap jerseys which would save a further €5,000. Last Monday night's meeting revealed that the county senior team had cost the board €71,223 for 2011, well within the €99,000 budget.
And still one long-serving delegate described the meeting as one of the stormiest he could remember. Former manager and current coaching officer, Eamonn Barry, claimed the Meath management committee was one of the most dysfunctional in the country.
The former senior manager was asked to sit down, but said he would not be shouted down by anyone. He accused the executive committee of "a total lack of openness, transparency and accountability." When contacted by the Sunday Independent last week, Barry said he did not wish to make any comment on the matter.
"The meeting was stormy enough and there were a few dissenting voices," said one delegate. "But really no one was calling for Banty to go and while Eamonn was animated he was talking more about underage coaching issues. The Dunderry and Moynalvey people were looking for their selectors' sides of the story to be put across and they maintained that people needed to know why they resigned.
"But it's time to look ahead now. Most people feel that way," the delegate added. "Once Banty goes ahead and appoints two Meath selectors (Tom Keague is already on board), he should be fine for another term even if there are still a lot of traditionalists who would like to see a native man at the helm. Behind it all, though, there was no real push to get him out of the job. And there's no real appetite to see another new manager in so soon again -- if you speak to the players they are happy with him and want to keep Paul Grimley too."
So why the negativity at this meeting, the latest PR disaster for the administration? McEnaney will most probably return but it's not a foregone conclusion given the commotion. Hard to blame him if he stays away.
Sunday Indo Sport