Friday 6 December 2019

Vincent Hogan: Clipboard coaches can learn from Micko's pure philosophy

There are many reasons to worry for Gaelic football, but Mick O'Dwyer's apparent contemplation of a quieter life is, perhaps, the biggest one.

If this is to be his last championship, it will represent another step down the road to industrialising the game, just one more surrender to the practice of turning players into battery hens, bound to lives that are, fundamentally, an observance of repetition and order.

Being a county man these days must be about as much fun as studying algebra through Latin.

The sport is over-run with clipboards. You can't miss them. They come welded to the same, generically stern people, the types who have never seen a game they didn't think should be distilled down into a maths exam. They don't love football, of course. To love something, you've first got to have a functioning heart.

It has always struck me that 'Dwyer' sees the video-Nazis of the modern game as no more than joyless book-keepers. People who compile everything, but understand little.

After his latest miracle on Saturday night, another epic day looms in Aughrim now and -- win or lose the replay with Armagh -- we can say, unequivocally, that he owes Wicklow nothing. For he has given them what he has given every team he ever managed, a journey to new peaks.

But, at 75, the prejudice of ageism is nudging him towards retirement. So a man who should be some kind of national ambassador for the game will probably slip away, a virtual outcast.

His face has never really fit, of course, as one rather big gash in his CV confirms so loudly. Dwyer's maverick tongue cost him the opportunity to manage Ireland in an International Rules series. He was over-qualified for the job, just not inclined to genuflect or curtsy before those whose gift it was to make the appointment.

So be it. These days, anyone over 50 seems to be considered as obsolete as a Penny Farthing. And, if Dwyer's race is run, he at least steps away with a remarkable body of work behind him. You can't say that for many of the career managers in the GAA today, people renowned for gifts like diligence and organisation, but with little available evidence of a capacity to inspire.

Yes, they are incredibly thorough. Yes, they surround themselves with squadrons of wired-up support staff, people wearing bibs who will breathlessly explain how Player A ran 0.1pc of a mile more than Player B in a critical 10-minute window between rain showers, then all but tap their noses at the enlightenment they bring.

But are modern management teams in the business of winning games or collating possible excuses?

You see, the popular caricature of Dwyer is that he is as relevant to football today as Cliff Barnes is to oil. He supposedly gets players fit by running laps. That winter penitence complete, he then hands them a football and invites them to outscore the opposition.


Yet, bizarrely, his teams keep on over-achieving. And, often, against opponents all but constructed by NASA.

Which, of course, shouldn't be possible.

Actually, now that the cost of training a decent county team seems to match the GDP of a small country, Dwyer ought really be the most sought-after man in football, shouldn't he? The lie that he is drawn to the game for personal gain was surely decommissioned (in any honest mind) many years ago.

He follows this star simply because it is football that feeds his energy.

Wicklow really had no business putting Armagh to the sword last Saturday night. The hosts, remember, wintered in Division 1 of the National League, Wicklow squatting three divisions lower. Then again, the league has never exactly made Dwyer giddy, has it?

He carves his greatness only into summer ground.

But the preference today is for sterner, younger managers. For men who create a kind of temperance environment where spontaneity is treated like a strain of E-coli. Hurling and football training has become so robotic, so structured, it might as well be in the hands of the people from health and safety.

Players are virtual prisoners now. Support staffers meet them at the dressing-room door like customs officers with rubber gloves. Eating as much as a croissant could land a man in detox.

Just about everyone in their orbit presents themselves as an 'expert', the simple philosophy being that everything, literally everything, can be broken down, analysed and parsed into the subtext for a wall motto.

So you have water-carriers walking around with the air of heart surgeons. Stats men who think they're Melvyn Bragg. You have sports psychologists who've made a career from spouting tired American cliché.

Honestly, the next player I see quoted about "focusing only on the things we can control", I intend punching. I mean we're all for a bit of back-up information and support in this neck of the woods. But the game is under siege from crashing bores.

It's actually a wonder that county training sessions aren't picketed for their abuse of civil liberties these days, given how football is spawning people programmed to flee an original thought.

All this militaristic direction isn't just a hideous way to live, it's patently not sensible. Yet, the madness is unrelenting and, soon, it is set to worsen. For the greatest manager the game has known will be waved away like an eccentric uncle getting giddy at a wedding. No doubt, someone with access to clipboards will replace him.

Forgive us Micko. We know not what we do.

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