Opinion Eugene McGee

Monday 14 October 2019

Rumour and intrigue keep 'silly season' in full swing

Crazy ideas betray counties' desperation to land big-name bosses

Jason Ryan: has filled one of the few vacancies
Jason Ryan: has filled one of the few vacancies
Paul Sharry (L) John Heslin and Paddy Dowdall (R) of St Lomans celebrate after winning the Westmeath SFC final

Eugene McGee

Most sectors of Irish society have what is called a 'silly season' – a time of year when whatever logic and common sense existed in the rest of the year goes out of the window, and all sense of proportion is lost.

In politics, for example, August is commonly referred to as the 'silly season' on the basis that our politicians are on holidays and therefore Dáil Éireann is redundant – but, of course, much longer periods than August should qualify on that basis.

In the GAA world, it struck me that September and October would definitely qualify as the 'silly season', given that more nonsense is talked and written in these two months than at any other time of the year – although I agree that a lot of rubbish is talked at other times as well.

The nonsense that goes on every year around this time involves the appointment of managers for county teams.

Once the All-Ireland finalists are known, the media is full of stories about possible appointments for the following season.

This has been a fairly slack year in that only about a dozen new managers – including Jason Ryan, who was handed the reins at Kildare last week – are to be appointed, but the scarcity has made up by the quality of the appointment process.

Now, one would think that appointing a manager for a county football team is not that difficult. There are always people who wish to be considered, usually from within the particular county.

Then there are outsiders, who are perceived to have the necessary talents, who are approached by the county board and asked to attend an interview.

Seems simple enough, doesn't it? But this is where the 'silly season' bit kicks in because nothing is ever simple in GAA decision-making.

The first question arises as to whether the appointment should be an insider or an outsider.

There has always been sharp division about this since outside managers first surfaced in the late 1970s – a time when inter-county managers became hugely significant figures for their teams, and Mick O'Dwyer and Kevin Heffernan became national icons.

Outside appointments became all the rage except, that is, in those few counties that would never countenance such an appointment, such as Kerry, Dublin and Tyrone.

Others used to be in the same category but changed their tune, most notably Meath a few years ago and with such disastrous results.

For a few years, more than half the managers were outsiders, but nowadays more are being appointed from within the county. The fact that only two outsiders have managed teams to the All-Ireland title in the past 40-odd years could be a factor.

The silliness takes over in the early autumn, when we get examples of some of the crazy ideas county board officers bring to the table about selecting a manager.

The names of managers and ex-players are leaked to the media as if they were gospel, and wild claims are treated as being based in reality.

Granted, some such claims were realistic – with O'Dwyer arriving in Kildare and then Laois, Páidí ó Sé being launched in showbiz style in Westmeath and Joe Kernan becoming Galway manager. Kieran McGeeney's appointment in Kildare six years ago was also a shock, bearing in mind that he had never previously managed a county team.

Another illogical factor that can influence manager appointments is money. In the Celtic Tiger days, some 'sugar daddys' arrived on the GAA scene and ex-players suddenly found themselves becoming well-compensated for travel and out-of-pocket expenses.

Now crazy as some of these appointments were at the time, the issue has become even more complicated in modern times because of the back-room teams.

This addition to the GAA lexicon has seen not just a manager being appointed to a job but also a whole army of helpers as well, some of whom are paid because they are deemed to have professional qualifications and thus are distinguished from the mere amateurs who formerly ran all team matters.

Some counties have between 10 and 20 in their back-room team, most of whom are not paid.

Once money comes into any section of the GAA system it tends to infiltrate quickly downwards and, while home-grown managers traditionally received virtually nothing by way of expenses, in recent times it's clear that this is no longer the situation with the advent of outside managers.

Why are so many county boards in serious financial trouble nowadays, with several having had to be bailed out by Croke Park?

Inter-county players are the ones most directly affected when a manager is appointed, but no proper structure for having players' roles in appointment exists in most counties.

Hence, the disastrous rows in Cork a few years ago and, more recently, the split opinions in Kildare regarding McGeeney.

As a result, we are likely to see more examples of the dreaded 'losing the dressing-room' syndrome in the GAA at county level, which is catastrophic in any county.

During the 'silly season' a county board chairman can often be seen sitting furtively in a hotel lobby, far from their home base, as he waits to have a secret rendezvous with a famous manager or retired star player.

But, of course, there are no secrets in the GAA, so yet another headline is created in the media or Twitter.

Some chairmen regard securing a big-name signing for manager as akin to the crowning glory of their own careers in GAA politics.

But at least the GAA 'silly season' helps to shorten the winter with tales of intrigue, rumours and counter-rumours about the recruitment of outside managers until, eventually, harmony breaks out and every county believes that they have the right man for the job. Dream on folks.

Indo Sport

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss