Monday 26 February 2018

Small steps on arduous journey

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

After missing out on the Meath job, Colm O'Rourke hopes some of his proposals will at least be considered

Judging by current trends, the managing of county teams is getting a bit like the film No Country For Old Men. While the age-profile of managers seems to be coming down, there is a balance to be struck between youthful energy and worldly experience.

In the United States, many of those involved in baseball and American football are very old by Irish standards. All that is demonstrated by the difference between codes and countries is that age, whether young or old, should not be a barrier to doing a good job.

In Meath last week, a new management team was unveiled. As I was in the running and attended an interview for the post, I was obviously watching with interest. Anyone who has had some success at county level would like to see another generation having those same experiences. There are things you can do in life that give a certain satisfaction, and outside of family the best thing to do is to be on a winning team -- and club is just as important as county. Obviously having a son involved -- if his injuries clear up -- makes management an even more attractive proposition and there is a time for everything in life.

Yet in my view, there is no point in taking on a challenge unless the conditions are right, or at least the right conditions can be created. Ultimately, winning an All-Ireland is the only thing that counts and a whole series of measures could be put in place that would make it easier for any manager in Meath. Success is very difficult to achieve but without it being carefully planned for at all levels, the odds increase dramatically.

Meath has a bigger population, 184,000 based on the last census, than any county that has won the All-Ireland in the last 25 years, with the obvious exceptions of Cork and Dublin. There is a huge network of well-run clubs and there is definite improvement at underage level so the county side should be a whole lot better. There is no point in blaming people, policies or structures. What is needed is a new way forward.

I am convinced that with such a rapid increase in population and playing numbers that Meath need a young, full-time chief executive who has the time and foresight to draw all the different elements together, put plans in place and make people accountable for the jobs they are doing. This to me is fundamental to progress.

When this is mentioned to some county board officials, the stock answer is that if you get the wrong person then you could be worse off. If this was taken to its logical conclusion then nobody would be employed to do anything.

Every year I sit on interview panels; some good choices are made, some not so good, but short-term contracts solve that problem. There is an element of loss of power here but the reality is that transferring authority to people who know more than you on certain issues is the way to build an energetic organisation. Being able to identify weaknesses and mistakes is part of that and change is central. Some fear it, others embrace it and always look for improvements.

I have a simple policy in the school where I work: there are plenty of things wrong but what I want to hear is how things can be done better. If it does not work out then try something different but don't complain without an alternative.

In putting forward a document for sustainable success in the future for Meath football, I hope that some of it is implemented. I tried it before with very different ideas for that time and that did not work but hopefully there are some parts of this which may make sense to those in positions of authority.

Part of that is to bridge the gap between club and county where all professional guidance on health, nutrition, conditioning etc would be available to clubs on a dedicated website. Other ideas include trying to establish links with various third-level institutes who have courses in the general sport science area to make some of this expertise available to clubs in a bid to reduce the medical costs involved in running teams.

There is also a role for the county board to get young football graduates who are enthusiasts involved in positions with rugby teams and Australian Rules sides to bring back the latest expertise from these sports. There is something to be learned from seeing how professional sports run their teams.

Maybe a big sticking point was my view that the senior management team should look after under 21, junior and senior with minor management probably having an input too. This to ensure continuity and that a style be developed which is not changed dramatically from one team to another. The junior side, if it is to have any relevance, should be kept to young players who have a chance of playing at senior level.

Working on TV or writing for this paper has no appeal relative to being involved with a team. This year I managed the club junior side and played as well on four occasions; it was a different experience but people enjoy a game no matter what the level and I would be quite happy to continue in that capacity.

At county level, it may never work out and so be it. I believe that the process in Meath puts the cart before the horse. A group who have experience in management at this level should be selected and they should get a manager they want and put everything in place for him rather than going through an elaborate process of democracy as at present.

Anyway, whatever about the process there should be no complaints about the new management team, even if it would have been nice if candidates who put themselves forward at least got a courtesy call of thanks.

The new group is headed by Mick O'Dowd, who I played club football with in Skryne. Without him and Trevor Giles coming on to the senior team in the early 1990s, I would not have been involved in a championship-winning team and after losing five finals, it was a great thrill to

win one. They, along with Seán Kelly and Colm Brady, both of whom I played with at county level, will bring expertise, commitment, modesty and a sense of calmness to a scene which has had six managers in less than a decade.

There are no egos involved and there will an absence of drama. Their work will be for the common good and it is not in any of their personalities to look for the limelight. They will treat players very well as courtesy, dignity and respect are essential parts of their own characters. So while I may not like the process, I have nothing but good things to say about those entrusted with the management of the Meath team.

Meath have also landed on their feet with a very good sponsor in Ray Coyle of Tayto. It is not easy to get a sponsor and Meath is an industrial blackspot. There never seems to be a big announcement like Paddy Power or the Kerry Group for Meath. Somebody in another management capacity is asleep at the wheel.

The big target for the new management team should be to get out of the third division of the league and in a way it is not a bad division to start a management career. Yet All-Irelands are not won out of the third tier and rarely out of the second so it is a long road. The Chinese have a saying for this type of adventure -- 'the longest journey begins with a single step'.

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