Some players need mirrors, not a change of manager
T his time of year is dangerous for the GAA. Players have nothing to do but plot for the future and the first thing they train their guns on is the manager. It is the new target for all dissatisfaction. If a team loses, the manager gets the blame; when they win, the players have pulled it off.
Limerick and Clare hurlers have been added to the disaffected ranks. In Clare, the players want the manager to go while in Limerick the jury is still out on what they want. Players should be very careful for what they wish for in case it comes true. Sometimes the devil you know is better than the one you don't.
There are many GAA administrators who would like to blame all of this on Cork. When the players there took on what was perceived to be the most powerful county board and won, it emboldened the rest of the country. In reality, it is a no contest. The players have all the power but with that power comes many responsibilities and in some cases it is not used either wisely or well. If players decide they don't want a manager, then it is game, set and match to the players. But in doing that they can create a bigger mess than what they started out with.
A manager without the support of his players is a dead man walking and is better off away from such a scene. Yet I wonder how often is player unrest fermented by those whose private gripes about being dropped or substituted is then taken to a new level?
It then becomes a 'shaft the manager' issue with the new boss soon becoming the bogeyman when he does exactly the same. Counties, and indeed clubs, are full of small-minded, petty individuals who can't face up to the fact that they are useless articles on the pitch and a general annoyance off it. Not the sort to follow into a dispute with anyone.
So the Cork revolution is not for export around the country. The big difference between the Rebels and what is happening elsewhere is that they had a proven pedigree of winning. They knew exactly how to go about it and were not willing to compromise on standards. That is the way it should be. However, a lot of other counties are putting the cart before the horse. They demand change, but are not performing on the pitch.
Players could argue the very opposite and say they have no chance of winning anything because of poor management. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? And who knows best about picking managers, the players or the county board?
Over the last few years there have been rows over the selection of managers or between managers and players in Cork, Limerick, Offaly, Clare, Donegal, Down, Armagh, Meath and Cavan. This list is not exhaustive either as many stabbings never get to the media. In Ulster, old tribal loyalties have broken down completely when it comes to taking management positions outside their own counties; it is a case of Ulster saying yes, yes, yes. In Monaghan, Down and Armagh, the movement of personnel across county boundaries this year has been unprecedented, although it can only be a healthy development. The idea of not moving outside some artificial line on a map is well outdated. But this movement has left bad feeling too as others have been caught in the crossfire.
When players are asked who they want when it comes to managing a team, they often have not worked out things beyond getting rid of the man in position. It must have come as some surprise to those who have had Mick O'Dwyer that instead of having some new scientific model of playing football, he went back to tried-and-trusted methods, most of it based on playing football. And some of these methods are what players have probably rebelled against with other managers.
If Brian Cody, Jack O'Connor or Mickey Harte went to some other county and preached a simple message of hard work, self-sacrifice and co-operation, players would probably suspect they were holding something back.
It gets back to whether it is the players or the management who are most important in getting success. There is no doubt in my mind that the catalyst for change and All-Ireland wins came in Meath because of Sean Boylan.
There are other counties who might claim they won things despite the management, not because of them. This always seemed to me to be a very small-minded and mean-spirited way to look at success. Winning at the top level is dependent on a thousand little things going right. For want of a nail the war was lost.
Right now we are seeing the old and new worlds of the GAA colliding. Players fresh out of third-level colleges bursting with new ideas and an old-style administration structure which appoints managers who often find little
favour with players. When that management group run their course, the circus starts again.
Yet in all of this there is a suspension of reality. The majority of football counties have no chance of winning the All-Ireland while hurling is a three- or four-horse race -- at best. So players' frustrations with management is in a way misdirected. Of course they can't just throw in the towel but many are swimming against a raging tide and no change of management will work.
At club level, the problem of player unrest is just as prevalent. The normal approach now is to demand an outside manager who comes at a price from €100 a night upwards in many cases.
Eventually, the penny drops. The problems of players not turning up or general lack of commitment rarely improves with a different voice, even if fresh thinking has transformed many clubs. In a more difficult economic environment, clubs will have to go back to sorting out their problems from within. That demands responsibility from players. Instead of taking aim at the easy target, a lot of players should take a good honest look at themselves and ask whether shooting the messenger would solve all problems.
Of course there are poor managers but the present situation where players can decide the manager's fate is untenable. The successful counties and clubs place great stock on co-operation in getting the right man and then sticking with him. In many other places players need mirrors, not a change of management.