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Fresh-faced bosses must develop thick skin quickly

JUSTIN McNulty seemed somewhat surprised to find himself surrounded by a posse of journalists outside the dressing-rooms in Portlaoise last Sunday.

He had presided over his first outing as Laois football manager, a gentle run-out against Wicklow on a frosty afternoon nine days into the new year. It was a day of experiment for both McNulty and Mick O'Dwyer, a chance to make preliminary assessments on how new faces reacted to senior inter-county action.

There was a time when pre-season games merited no more than the briefest of media mentions but they are now covered as if they're really important and informative. It's a sensible reaction by newspapers to the public interest as supporters, some of whom haven't seen their county in action since last June, look for early pointers as to what the new season might hold.

That wasn't necessary when the National Leagues ran until early December. Yet since the GAA is probably the only sporting organisation in the world that leaves most of its star performers without elite competition for over six months, the surge of interest in pre-season activity is understandable.

Still, as a new manager, McNulty was probably a little bemused to find himself being quizzed about a first-round O'Byrne Cup game. The practice will do him good because, as more experienced managers know, every detail of their teams, selections, tactics and themselves is up for constant scrutiny.


Quite often their reaction to a game gets more attention than the game itself, which is actually quite ridiculous.

But in a fast-moving world where everybody has an opinion and a means of expressing it through modern technology, managers and players are deemed fair game.

Never mind that much of the opinion, offered anonymously on low-rent phone-ins and toxic websites, features the intelligence level of a dung beetle, it's out there in all its idiotic forms.

Several new GAA managers are pounding their studs on inter-county sidelines for the first time, all so full of ambition and enthusiasm that they have deleted the words 'failure' and 'disappointment' from their vocabularies. It will work for some but, for others, the season -- if indeed not their careers -- will end up unfulfilled.

It was interesting then to read in this paper pre-Christmas the comments of some of the managers who resigned or were voted out last year. One of the questions concerned the one thing they would, in hindsight, have done differently.

It might be of interest to Justin McNulty that the response of his predecessor, Sean Dempsey, was: "Be more careful about whom I would confide in on the county board."

Clearly, trust wasn't a plentiful commodity between Dempsey and sections of the Laois hierarchy.

Joe Kernan's replay to the hindsight question was: "I would double-check all the ground rules before committing myself again."

And since he also stated he would have loved to continue in Galway, it's clear he believes he was undermined.

It goes to show that, irrespective of what you've achieved in the past, judgments are based very much on the present.

The trouble now for GAA managers is that some senior board officials compare themselves with the chairmen of major soccer clubs, happy to take the credit for an appointment when things go well while ruthlessly distancing themselves if success doesn't arrive -- and quickly at that.

Still, it's not always board officials who turn on managers. Sometimes, even their own do it as instanced this week by Ger Loughnane's strange claim that Brian Cody allowed himself to become distracted last year and further alleging that it was reflected in Kilkenny's performance against Tipperary.

No mention of the injuries to Henry Shefflin, Brian Hogan or John Tennyson. No, this was down to the manager being distracted, whatever than means.

So, from Cody to Kernan and across a whole range of others, there's no escape from criticism -- unless your hands are on the major trophies. Still, the management drug remains as powerful as ever.

When asked in the Irish Independent survey if they envisaged returning to inter-county management at any stage, Dempsey, Tommy Carr, John O'Mahony, Mickey Ned O'Sullivan, Liam Sheedy and Niall Rigney hinted that they would.

And despite his Galway experience, Kernan didn't entirely rule it out either.

GAA community united in grief over tragic Michaela

THE GAA family has always united in a very special way at times of tragedy, as is now the case for the unspeakable ordeal being endured by the Harte and McAreavey families.

The shocking death of Michaela Harte, so well known in GAA circles and beyond, has stunned the whole country and left those who knew her numb with grief.

The only thing the GAA world can do is to offer as much support as possible to both families in whatever way it can.

It's an area where Mickey Harte himself excelled and now he, his family and the McAreaveys can expect the same from the GAA community.

Irish Independent