Sunday 4 December 2016

Two very different tales of one boss

Published 06/02/2011 | 05:00

In April 2003, three players were axed from the Louth panel for playing for their club against the express wishes of the county team management. A few days later, Louth lost their final league game of the campaign to Westmeath. Two months later, Louth's footballing year was over after defeat to Cavan in the first round of the qualifiers.

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At the time, Louth were effectively a Division 4 team -- those were the days of Divisions 1A and 1B, and 2A and 2B -- but the team manager strongly believed that despite the county's lowly status it could rise again. The manager was not a native of the county, but he was not prepared to accept lying down that Louth was destined to be a bystander when it came to serious football days.

The previous year had been agonising for Louth and their manager when they suffered a championship defeat to Meath almost as unbelievable and heartbreaking as last year's Leinster final loss. Four points clear of their neighbours with time up in a qualifier game in Navan, Meath struck with two goals deep in added time for an incredible victory. There is a picture of the manager on his knees with his head in his hands on the sideline after the second goal.

And so the manager entered his third year at the Louth helm on a mission. He wanted a good league campaign as a foundation for a run in the championship. He believed fiercely in the importance of inter-county football and he was more determined than ever to lift Louth out of the doldrums. The county board backed his call to remove the three players from the squad.

The Louth manager was Paddy Carr.

Eight days ago, Kilmacud Crokes manager Paddy Carr sent a text to Longford manager Glenn Ryan informing him that the county's star player Brian Kavanagh would not be available for today's opening league game against Roscommon.

Glenn Ryan is not a native of Longford but strongly believes that the county can be greater than the sum of its parts. He is in his third year as manager -- probably a make-or-break year for him as far as that goes. Last year's four-point defeat to Down in the qualifiers still rankles, but this year's league offers a chance to build momentum going into the Leinster championship clash with Laois in May. If anyone knows what life looks like right now from Ryan's perspective, it is the current Kilmacud Crokes manager, and former Louth manager, Paddy Carr.

In its own right, the league will be difficult. All four divisions this year look incredibly competitive and evenly matched, and the natural ambition for any team in Longford's position in the bottom tier is to earn promotion.

Brian Kavanagh (pictured) -- who has twice won a GPA footballer of the month award -- is the best footballer Longford has produced in recent years. He has also now rediscovered the form that first brought him to prominence in 2006 and played a central role in Kilmacud Crokes' path to the Leinster title. If he is central to Kilmacud Crokes, just imagine how important he is to a county like Longford. But today -- to satisfy the self-indulgent pursuits of a club on Dublin's southside -- Longford take the field with one hand tied behind their back.

Paddy Carr is passionate about football. Read any interview with him down the years and that much is clear. Kilmacud Crokes are passionate about football too -- they cater for an extraordinary number of players every week.

But what they did last week is anti-football.

It is reported elsewhere in this paper today that the GAA is losing 250 players a month to emigration. You can be sure that the counties hardest hit will be the weaker, peripheral ones, the likes of Longford, and Leitrim and Clare and so on. Volunteers will work harder than ever to ensure teams will still field and that clubs will go on. Football matters to people in these counties just as much as it does to Kilmacud Crokes -- a club said to have as many underage teams as there are in the entire county of Longford.

There are three weeks to the All-Ireland semi-final with Crossmaglen and to prevent Kavanagh from lining out with his county today should have drawn the wrath of the GAA. In the rule book, there is a category of misconduct which deals with behaviour considered to have discredited the Association. It carries severe penalties, including suspension, fines and disqualification. It is a broad, rarely used, rule but perhaps it is one the GAA should have looked at last week in relation to Kilmacud Crokes.

Kavanagh is a star in his home county. He will be sorely missed by Longford supporters today, including me, and while the football-loving men and women of Kilmacud Crokes may not care, they should know that.

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