Wednesday 29 January 2020

O'Hara gives Walsh both barrels over London loss

Eamonn O'Hara (right) and Sligo boss Kevin Walsh soldiered together for four seasons before the veteran footballer finally hung up his boots this year
Eamonn O'Hara (right) and Sligo boss Kevin Walsh soldiered together for four seasons before the veteran footballer finally hung up his boots this year
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Early on Sunday evening the first smoke signals from Eamonn O'Hara emerged when he tweeted a simple overview of Sligo's defeat to London in Ruislip.

"Questions need to be asked and answered," he suggested.

Later that night, as 'The Sunday Game' cameras rolled for the second show of the new season, O'Hara made sure to kick off the public inquisition himself.

Reaching the Connacht final last year was "merely papering over the cracks," he suggested.

"Infighting" among a county board that is currently grappling with a €1.5m debt was a distraction from the sequence of results over the last two years, he added, results which were essentially down to poor tactical planning and awareness.

"They (the players) deserve better training sessions. They deserve better quality in terms of tactical awareness and stuff like that and that hasn't come. Kevin Walsh has a lot to answer for," O'Hara said.

"I think he will (resign) and I think he should do the county board a favour. Kevin Walsh made big calls this year and last year. Every one of them has come back to backfire against him.

"For me I think he lost the players throughout the year. I think going forward Kevin should make the right decision for the sake of Sligo football and not anybody else."

Traditionally 'Sunday Game' analysts have been careful with criticism of their own counties. Pat Spillane felt the heat of some of his own people and was even mentioned by a priest during a sermon at mass in the west Kerry Gaeltacht for his comments about Kerry in the 1995 Munster final defeat to Cork.

"What he said on RTE television disappointed many people. I don't know why he did it and it wasn't good enough," the priest said.

But generally analysts will tread softly around difficult matters concerning their own county.

O'Hara went for it with both feet, however. There would be no protocol observed in his appraisal of the fall guys in London's first Connacht championship victory for 36 years.

Inevitably the perception will be that his remarks were of the "personal axe to grind" type that former Armagh footballer Oisin McConville suggested on radio yesterday morning, or a desire to make a mark in his fledgling career as a TV analyst. In that respect he certainly succeeded.

JILTED

But O'Hara delivered his critique without much emotion. Clearly he had thought long and hard about what he wanted to say. In conversation with a local Sligo radio station, he insisted his comments were made as a concerned Sligo supporter, not as a jilted player.

For now, those criticisms and such assertions that Walsh was interested in the Roscommon job, remain largely unchallenged. O'Hara's own Sligo career, dating back to late 1993 when he was introduced for the league campaign, effectively ended, he said, when Walsh rang him up in late October, not long after Walsh had agreed to a fifth year in charge.

The manager had demanded full commitment from November 1 (by regulation Sligo's return date should have been December 1 because they exited the championship in July) according to O'Hara but because of work commitments he says he couldn't give that, offering January 1 instead as a potential return date.

Walsh, who was not contactable yesterday, was not agreeable to that, according to O'Hara and that was the last time they spoke.

The suggestion that the deadline for O'Hara was a way of gently moving him on from the inter-county scene is diluted by the same fate befalling three other members of the 2012 squad – David Rooney, David Maye and Johnny Davey – who weren't apparently in a position to make that early commitment either. They have remained out of the loop since.

The decision to bring in James Kilcullen in February does, however, leave Walsh open to some criticism. Kilcullen, a club player with Ballaghdereen in Mayo and a nephew of former Sligo great Mickey Kearins, qualifies for Sligo under redrafted transfer rules last year because his father is a native of the county and his home club is St Patrick's. He only became available in February and the opportunity was seized up by Walsh and his management team.

But if he did in fact close the door on O'Hara in November, as O'Hara has suggested, how could he open the door to another player in February?

Of course that's a manager's right and Kilcullen made an impact during a disappointing league campaign. But Walsh and his selectors were left in an awkward position when Kilcullen committed to playing with Ballaghdereen in the Mayo championship on Saturday night last. Introducing him as a substitute in Ruislip the next day sent out the wrong message.

Despite O'Hara's criticism, Walsh's track record with Sligo in the first four years as manager is, on the face of it, decent. Remember how close they came to scuppering Kerry in Tralee in that 2009 qualifier, only a penalty save by Diarmuid Murphy from David Kelly preserving the Kingdom's interest in a championship that they eventually won playing some of their best ever football as a team in a quarter-final just a few weeks later?

A year later, having won Division 3 by beating Antrim in the final, he took them to a Connacht final on the back of three big performances, as they beat Mayo before drawing with Galway and beating them in a replay, unprecedented for them in modern times.

But their loss to Roscommon after victories over the 'big two' in the province was a setback.

Last year they overturned a five-point deficit to beat a fancied Galway team but lost to Mayo in a tight Connacht final.

O'Hara's main issue with Walsh's stewardship is tactical – a view shared by former Sligo manager Tommy Brehony during his analysis on local radio on Sunday afternoon. O'Hara has acknowledged, though, that physical fitness and conditioning for the squad has been of a very high standard over the four years he was there. Even this year the reports were that they had trained hard and well since coming together.

It will be of little consolation that Mayo almost met the same fate two years ago in James Horan's first championship match but within 16 months had guided them to an All-Ireland final.

In something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, Walsh spoke of Sligo's difficulty, during his management, of beating "lesser ranked" teams at the recent Connacht championship launch.

Their most celebrated player of modern times has made sure it hasn't gone unnoticed.

Irish Independent

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