Saturday 26 May 2018

Wee role for Pete

John Savage

The long wait for a new Louth football manager finally concluded last week - and the general consensus appears to be that 'Wee' got the right man for the job. Double All-Ireland winner Pete McGrath was appointed on a two-year term, with the option of a third upon review. 

Declan Mussen was ratified as his coach/selector and two more local selectors will be appointed in due course with Wayne Kierans heavily linked to a joint U-20/senior role.

McGrath resigned from the Fermanagh hotseat earlier in the summer after four years at the helm. He was initially ratified to continue in the role, but revealed play-power forced his hand as he opted to step aside.

The Rostrevor native revealed he kept his options open at first, but after several meetings with Louth county board officials, he agreed to succeed Colin Kelly - who was appointed Westmeath boss the same night.

Speaking last Friday, the former school-teacher said he will get stuck into the job without delay and he took in his first club match at The Grove on Sunday as Dundalk Gaels edged out Naomh Mairtin in the semi-final of the senior championship.

'I'm looking forward to the challenge and it's going to be a big one,' McGrath said. 'But I'm enthused and excited by it and I'm looking forward to getting a squad together as quickly as possible.'


He revealed that other offers were on the table, but he took his time in deciding on his next move.

'It's like any job, particularly an inter-county job; an approach is made and you need time to think and ask yourself some honest questions. Do you want to do the job? Do you have the energy and enthusiasm to do the job? When I left Fermanagh a few counties expressed an interest in my services, but I sat tight. 

'A few counties did make approaches, some serious and some just speculative, but I was only going to take a job that appealed to me and was a good fit and that I really wanted to do. When the approach came initially I was non-committal. When the second approach was made we agreed to talk and I was impressed by the people I met.'


The new boss was equally candid about the team's prospects.  'I don't know, to be honest,' he replied, when asked what calibre of team he had inherited.

'I worked in Louth a number of years ago with Cooley Kickhams and I've always had close connections with Louth over the years. When I was managing Down we used to play Louth regularly. I know the passion that's in the game generally in Louth. There's a desire and appetite for success and the payers are always hungry for success.

'Over the years on their day they've been able to put it up to any team. Like any other county they've had their peaks and troughs, we all know that, every county goes through that.

'The current team are in Division 2 after two successive promotions from four to two, and that would indicate there was solid progress in terms of league performances. 

'I'm a firm believer that you do need very positive and encouraging league performances to take you into the championship. Division 2 will be highly competitive. You only have to look at the teams in it, some big names that will be mad to get out of it, so it's going to be a league that will challenge us all, management and players, and in that process we will hopefully improve and bring players on individually and collectively.'


While McGrath revealed he will take in as many club games as possible as the season draws to a close, he is keeping his options open in terms of selecting a squad, but it would seem some form of trials will take place.

'There are a few options. Trials are a possibility where clubs nominate players they feel are of county standard. Sometimes players buy into trials and sometimes they find them artificial. 

'An extended squad is an option too, but I'm not a big fan of that as at the end of the process you have to shave players off and that's never easy on management or players. We'll see in the weeks ahead, but the one thing we have to ensure is that we have all the very best players in the squad.'

His local selectors will certainly guide the new boss on the talent available and he wants to see the additional member of his backroom team appointed as soon as possible, while it's understood the current physios, doctors and strength and conditioning coaches will be retained.

 'I'd like to see them appointed as soon as possible. I won't say I'm at the mercy of the people who appointed me, but they know who is capable of meeting the job description I put before them. I was blessed with an excellent management team in Fermangah - local people who knew their football and brought different expertise and I'm confident we'll find that in Louth as well. 

'Declan Mussen is with me of course. He was here before for a year under Peter Fitzpatrick and he's a highly respected coach. But we also need two men from Louth and I'm quite confident the county board will come up with the right people.

'Declan would primarily work on the fitness side of things, but he is a very good coach and he'll take aspects of training that will improve skills of players too. 'But the preparation and training of the team is something we'll agree on collectively when the management team is in place. We'll sit down and see how we want to do things. I will certainly set out what I want to see done on the training field. The players need to be challenged and extended in each and every session.

'We want to make them fitter and stronger and get their skill level as high as we possibly can. They're the challenges for the weeks and months ahead and it will take a lot of planning and discussion.'

While he still has to 'assess the players' at his disposal, McGrath hinted that Louth will adopt an attacking brand of football and he believes the game as a whole is now moving in that direction again.


'In the last year or two the game has opened up again. There's no doubt you have to defend in such a way as you're not wide open, but I think the approach of teams relying almost exclusively on defending and catching the opposition on the break has maybe come to an end. 

'The really good teams have adopted a more attacking and adventurous style of play. Obviously you have to look at the players you have at your disposal, but my philosophy has always been about attacking and being as adventurous as you possibly can.

That's a pre-requisite for any team that has confidence in itself. But ultimately the system and philosophy we adopt for this Louth team will evolve over the coming weeks and months. Now into his mid-60s McGrath was just 36 when he took over as Down manager in 1989, winning his first All-Ireland two years later. So what keeps the fire burning?

'It's the love of the game and the sense of excitement at being involved in a group where everyone is working towards a common objective. I love working with players who are ambitious and want to be the best they possibly can be. If you get that environment it's a great place to be. That's been my objective in any team I've managed.'


One man who would certainly approve of McGrath's appointment is the late Charlie McAllister and the new manager paid a warm tribute to his old friend.

'Charlie was a great friend of mine over many years. He was a frequent visitor down to me in Rostrevor and we talked football for hours. 

'He was such a wonderful, warm person and in my life in football I've never met anyone who was so absorbed in the game as much as he was, for whom it really was a matter of life and death. 

'He looked after all the gear for the two years I was over the International Rules team and you could write a book about Charlie.

'So I would like to think he's smiling up there somewhere and saying Louth have got a good man there.'

The Argus