Tuesday 20 February 2018

Risk-taker Banty rolls dice again

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

To get a sense of the gambler in Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney, you have to go back to Monaghan's Ulster championship opener against Armagh last June.

The Orchard County had been crowned Division 2 champions only six weeks earlier, and the expectation that Monaghan would win was hardly universal, so no one could have predicted what would transpire.

In McEnaney's six years of management from 2005 to the end of last season, the performance ranked as easily Monaghan's best. A 12-point win after a shaky start was as good as it got.

But it was all the more remarkable considering what had gone on in the 24 hours leading up to the game. The Monaghan bus had pulled into Casement Park that afternoon much later than expected, arousing suspicions that something was not quite right.

Those suspicions were well founded when it emerged that Darren Hughes, the team's regular full-back, was to play in goal, a decision coming so far from left field that even those at the very core of the operation knew nothing of it.

Monaghan's regular goalie Shane Duffy was injured, but instead of calling up his No 2 Sean Gorman, McEnaney opted for Hughes, who had not kept goal since playing minor.

The decision was not conveyed to Hughes until the day before; two other players affected by the changes heard later that night.

Gorman was not told until the Sunday morning when the bus prepared to leave Monaghan.

"The hardest decision of my life," was how McEnaney described it afterwards. But it paid off, regardless of how ruthless it was perceived in the squad. Maybe in the long run it did contribute to his eventual exit in August, maybe not.

Twelve months on and McEnaney is back rolling the dice again.

Graham Geraghty (38), one of the most celebrated and controversial figures of the last two decades, is an inter-county footballer again after accepting an invitation to rejoin McEnaney's squad.

Even he must be surprised at this turn of events. Plying his trade in the intermediate ranks with Clan na Gael in Athboy where he lives, Geraghty was watched by members of the Meath backroom squad in a match last weekend, and they liked what they saw.


Whatever else McEnaney may be charged with, he can't be accused of not trying to jolt some life into what has been a spluttering season. Lucky to survive in Division 2, Meath's performances in recent challenges have not been uplifting either.

It's an electric shock that could revive the patient or potentially cut short McEnaney's tenure in Meath if it goes horribly wrong.

McEnaney will fully understand the terms and conditions attached to such a gamble, but he thrives on the cut and thrust of these decisions.

To some it smacks of desperation, a reflection of the dearth of talent, to call on two veterans whose record of service could never be challenged -- Darren Fay (35) and also three years out of the inter-county game, was also offered a return but declined yesterday.

Even as natural an athlete and footballer as Geraghty could struggle to come to terms with inter-county football after a three-year absence.

But clearly he returns with the role of impact sub in mind. If McEnaney looks to his bench in a fortnight and Meath are a point down with 15 minutes to go against Kildare or Wicklow, would he have a better card to play?

Geraghty's last game for Meath was the nine-point hammering in a qualifier by Limerick in July 2008, after which he retired. Previous manager Eamonn O'Brien was never tempted to recall him in his two years of management.

Coming out of retirement after three years away has worked before.

In preparing to bring Geraghty back, McEnaney no doubt had his old friend Jack O'Connor in mind and the success the Kerry manager had with Mike McCarthy, who missed 2007 and '08 but was back for an All-Ireland medal in 2009. Eoin Brosnan ended his two-year retirement in February and so far, as a defender, it has worked well for him. Brian Corcoran too made little of three years away to win a couple of All-Ireland medals in 2004 and '05.

But McCarthy was 29 when he returned, Corcoran 30 and Brosnan 31.

This is different, a roulette call that could make or break Meath's first-ever 'outside' manager.

Irish Independent

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