Sport Hurling

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Allen wields big stick with a smile

John Allen
John Allen
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

John Allen espoused a simple philosophy recently on what he likes to base his team management principles on.

"Speak softly and carry a big stick," mused Allen in response to questions on how he would deal with the challenge of following Donal O'Grady into a management hot seat for the second time in his career.

The ink was barely dry on the page when Allen began to execute his philosophy in very real terms.

By Sunday evening it's thought that the first calls were being made to those Limerick players who had already been deemed surplus to requirements. And by Monday night seven players had been placed on an eviction list, with two others departing of their own accord.

The surprise element in all of this is not who has been moved on, given the dearth of championship time the axed players had in 2011, but how quickly the evictions have taken place.

Allen was proposed by the recommendations committee only two weeks ago. The Limerick management committee rubber-stamped him just 12 days ago and the County Board gave their seal of approvalonly on the previous Tuesday night.

Would it have been more diplomatic to have waited a month or two before delivering the news, or to set up a trial process to make the division between past and future? Allen clearly wasn't in the business of wasting anyone's time or engaging in charades.

His first meeting with the outgoing panel was in the University of Limerick on Saturday, when some of those who were discarded were present.

Fitness testing and programmes that are to be adhered to for the next few weeks were distributed as Allen -- in that relaxed, easy-going manner of his -- pressed the flesh and made the introductions with most of the squad he had inherited from O'Grady.

But already there were plans evolving from him and from his fellow selectors for a radical overhaul of that squad.

It was quick, decisive action from Allen, a shot across the bows of those who would automatically assume him to be more cautious and less radical than the nature of such a cull.

Despite the smiling exterior, Allen was renowned for making tough calls during his two years in charge of Cork.

He rarely tampered with the starting 15 for championship games but when it came to removing Ronan Curran and Brian Corcoran -- revered figures on Leeside then and now -- from the All-Ireland semi-final against a rampant Clare in August 2005, he did so with a sense of detachment from the bond he would have felt with those players.

The changes helped Cork's comeback, but within days Curran was brought aside and assured of his place for the final, while Corcoran would have known too that he wasn't in jeopardy.

When Stephen Lucey, Mark Foley, Mark O'Riordan, Niall Moran, Andrew O'Shaughnessy, Donie Ryan, Mike O'Brien, Damien Cosgrave, Donnacha Sheehan and Eoin Foley were dropped in that 2009 Limerick purge by Justin McCarthy, the manager made the fateful mistake of not personally informing the players of the move.

Given that the '09 season was over, McCarthy didn't feel the need to. A new squad was being formed but nonetheless, out of courtesy, it would have been the right thing to do.

However, he didn't and the rest is history.

Allen was never going to make the same mistake. He risked parallels with McCarthy's purge but effectively only seven -- not nine -- have been released and not one of that seven started a championship game in 2011.

Clearly 2011 form was the basis of being able to make such a decision. Perhaps if O'Grady had stayed at the helm he may have made those same decisions anyway, and Allen may be just adopting the blueprint. Ciaran Carey remains a selector and would possess a strong insight into how players were playing this season.

Damien Reale had made it known to the management that he wouldn't be making himself available in the coming months, while Ryan is at an age where retirement is an obvious choice.

Having featured for just five minutes in the championship against Wexford, the writing may have been on the wall anyway.

Lucey may have had something left to offer, however. He was troubled by injuries this year and saw little action as a consequence but, the great all-round hurler as he is, Seamus Hickey would probably not have been full-back under O'Grady if an alternative had been available to him. Would a fit Lucey, even heading for 32 years age, provide that alternative?

Brian Murray was an All Star goalkeeper four years ago, but fell down the pecking order under O'Grady this season. Still, he'll be just as surprised as Lucey to be told that he's not in the plans.

Eoin Ryan and Paudie O'Dwyer, two young Kilmallock players, have promise and could work their way back into the squad in time, but Paudie McNamara and Pat Tobin's omission could have been second-guessed on the basis of their limited exposure in 2011.

The establishment of a training squad for 2012 is still a work in progress, but can expect to be flooded with players from this year's U-21 squad who claimed the Munster title after that epic game with Cork at the Gaelic Grounds last August.

Na Piarsaigh's local championship success, and their growth as an underage power, will also offer possibilities to the new manager.

For now, though, some established Limerick players are licking their wounds and contemplating lives as former inter-county hurlers.

The big stick has been wielded with a smile.

Irish Independent

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