Saturday 24 February 2018

Royal family divided

Colm Keys reveals the real story behind Meath's shock sacking of Eamonn O'Brien

Meath chairman Barney Allen shows the statement in which no replay was offered to Louth by the county board, which is now divided over the
sacking of team manager Eamonn O'Brien (centre).
Meath chairman Barney Allen shows the statement in which no replay was offered to Louth by the county board, which is now divided over the sacking of team manager Eamonn O'Brien (centre).
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

On the night after Meath's controversial Leinster final win over Louth in July, delegates to the county board huddled tight together in a function room in the Teach na Teamhrach public house between Navan and Trim, a sense of anticipation rippling among them.

TV cameras were stationed outside; laptops were open and ready for action inside. Like the delegates, they waited. And waited.

Upstairs, the members of the Meath management committee thrashed out the pros and cons of offering a replay to their neighbours. That meeting lasted more than two hours, the divisions evident in such a lengthy deliberation.


The delegates continued to wait, appreciating what was at stake, knowing how it had to be teased out. Word would be with them soon enough, though, and they'd have their own say.

When the management meeting eventually broke up some 70 minutes after the main meeting was due to get under way, the main officers took their positions. Chairman Barney Allen immediately announced that there would be no discussion on the drama of the Leinster final.

No opinions were allowed to be aired, no consensus to be established. The clubs of Meath -- the lifeblood of the county's GAA scene -- had been sidelined. Business carried on as usual as the biggest issue of the summer's GAA championships was parked.

The following night at the same venue, the same management committee met and signed off on the matter. There would be no replay. Full stop. Taking everything into consideration, they were Leinster champions.

The courtesy of conveying the decision to the full county board didn't happen. Maybe that was the management committee's call to act with such independence from what should have been the main decision-making body. But it didn't go down well with those who had waited on the previous night, those who felt they should have had a stakeholding in such an important process. And they remembered it.

Some weeks ago, the same delegates gathered for the next board meeting. It was eight days after the defeat to Kildare and there were rumblings of discontent in the air over the team management issue.

"Will we be allowed to discuss that this time?" one delegate shouted up to the top table with a strong helping of sarcasm. He was assured they would.

However, after that day the Meath management committee met and proposed a year extension for Eamonn O'Brien, without having the promised discussion.

This time the same delegates sidelined in July were having none of it. This time, they weren't going to be railroaded. Of the 29 votes that went O'Brien's way, it must be presumed that 13 were from the members of the management committee present on Monday night. Effectively, the clubs decided by a 2:1 majority that a replacement should be found. In essence, this was as much a vote against the county board's management as it was against the team management itself.

Does that make it the correct decision? Of course it doesn't.

What it does is set an incredibly high standard for the next man. In successive years O'Brien brought Meath to an All-Ireland semi-final and an All-Ireland quarter-final. A first Leinster title in nine years, albeit with an asterisk over it, was picked up, as was a first championship win over Dublin in nine years -- topped by five wonderful goals.

The argument about the journey to these points on the map can be made, but if this truly is a results business then the destination is all that matters.

What Meath delegates have said, apart from their distaste at the way the top table is going about its business, is that such a standard isn't good enough.

In Kildare, Kieran McGeeney has brought his team to an All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final over the last two seasons, the reverse of Meath's achievements. In Kildare they wouldn't countenance McGeeney's departure.

True, O'Brien's tenure was damaged by the departure of Sean Kelly as team trainer after just one year. It followed Colm Brady's departure after a similar length of time the previous year. Kelly and Brady are rated among the best home-grown physical trainers/coaches in the county. Neither stayed long.

Some delegates aired the opinion that reactions on the line on the day of the Leinster final and the All-Ireland quarter-final had been too slow. They didn't make a substitution until after the 60th minute against Louth and some players were left in positions for too long against Kildare. But does such micro-analysis warrant a sacking? If such criteria are applied then there'll be an appointment process at the end of every season, after every defeat even.

The decision to remove O'Brien also makes it clear that the clubs in Meath don't think much of their Leinster title. Perhaps if the board management had allowed some discussion in July on the matter, they may have established such a mood was prevalent.

O'Brien is the first sitting manager of a provincial championship-winning side to be dismissed in such summary fashion since Brian McDonald in Mayo, in 1992 -- when the players made the heave against him. Mickey Moran's departure from the same county 14 years later was also cloaked in the suspicion that he was asked quietly to leave, having delivered a Connacht title and reached an All-Ireland final.

The decision in Monaghan to bat back Seamus McEnaney's proposed three-year re-appointment has again pulled the rug from a management committee. But in both counties the standards being set by such decisions won't be reached easily.

Faraway hills look an awful lot greener in September.

Irish Independent

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