Thursday 19 September 2019

Counties see the positives of giving young pretenders a spin on managerial merry-go-round

Ryan McMenamin is the new Fermanagh football manager. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
Ryan McMenamin is the new Fermanagh football manager. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

Conor McKeon

If there’s a splash of nostalgia about the respective appointments of Jack O’Connor and Seamus McEnaney in Kildare and Monaghan, it’s also in direct contrast with recent trends.

While only a small part of the shock caused by Paul Galvin taking the Wexford senior football manager’s job was over his age (39) and total lack of managerial experience, a fair chunk of the surprise over Michael Fennelly’s appointment in Offaly was due to the fact that the man who captained Ballyhale Shamrocks to an All-Ireland club title just this March is still only 34.

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Unlike O’Connor and McEnaney – who contested an All-Ireland quarter-final as inter-county managers 12 summers ago – neither have any track record, although Fennelly worked with the Kildare footballers in the role of performance coach this year.

Yet the buzz generated by their respective arrivals on the inter-county manager circuit is palpable.

Meanwhile, both the Wexford and Offaly county boards have been generally praised for their vision, taking a big chance on a big name despite having no direct links with the county or a hectic managerial CV.

"Maybe there was a bit of a merry-go-round and you’d wonder, ‘how did such and such get another job?'" says former Dublin footballer Tomás Quinn.

Dublin's Mossy Quinn
"What was it based on if there wasn’t really progression or success in the previous job?

"Maybe that’s why they went in a different direction."

Ryan McMenamin’s ascension to the Fermanagh job is roughly along those same lines although he, at least, has the benefit now of two seasons spent as a selector with Rory Gallagher.

But given the pace of tactical change in both football and hurling at inter-county level in the last decade, a close familiarity with the modern terms of engagement may be a more valuable asset for a potential manager than local knowledge or specific experience.

Wicklow are another county exploring this theory.

The sub-committee charged with the responsibility of finding a replacement for John Evans have yet to make any recommendations to the county board but at least one recent Dublin player with no prior managerial experience was informally sounded out.

Galway are the latest county to begin the search for a manager after Kevin Walsh’s decision to step down was confirmed yesterday.

Unlike Wexford or Wicklow, though, they can look immediately to several home-grown candidates, successful former players like Pádraic Joyce and John Divilly with big profiles among the current panel of players and relevant recent experience.

The demands are different too.

In struggling counties, the important first battle for a manager is usually the one convince the best club players to commit to a county team where the commitment is huge but the reward, initially at least, is non-existent.

"Straight away if I heard, as a Wexford footballer or even an Offaly hurler that Paul Galvin or Michael Fennelly is being appointed, you are going to be interested," as Quinn points out.

"If they ring you I’d say straight away there is going to be a higher percentage of guys that will say, ‘Yeah, it would be worth going in to see what they are about.’

"So I think straight away they are starting on a good footing. I would say they are brave appointments but it’s certainly worth trying anyway rather than going back to the same old."

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