Sunday 21 January 2018

Somebody to lean on: The rise of the No 2

GAELIC games may technically lack a transfer market but the movement of coaches, trainers and selectors in the off-season goes some way to compensating for the absence of activity.

Such activity has perhaps been greater than ever since teams began dropping out of the championship at the beginning of July.

And more than ever it is the stock of the No 2 in Gaelic games which appears to be rising greater as the last few months would clearly indicate.

Jason Ryan may have described management as a dictatorship after confirming his move to Kildare, but the way back-room teams are being constructed now, there is a much greater communal feel to it. Managers clearly need a firm shoulder to lean on.

Ryan is one of several high-profile coaches to find new work in 2013 with his move to Kildare, having just ended five years with Wexford, a significant eye-opener and a potentially positive development for the county and the team he is now committed too.

He is bucking the trend of a No 2 graduating to a top position by going in the opposite direction, citing a desire to coach without the responsibility to manage. But the business of securing strong support networks is not just exclusive to Kildare.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice had barely a foot in the door as Kerry manager in August when the speculation was already flying about a potential move south for Cian O'Neill. Once Mayo's All-Ireland final was out of the way, that became a reality.

But James Horan didn't waste much time in filling the vacuum left by O'Neill either and he pitched for Donie Buckley, who had been with Jack O'Connor and Kerry in 2011, as their new coach.

Down manager James McCartan has seen significant footfall through his back-room team since taking over in late 2009, with first Brian McIver and Paddy Tally and then Aidan O'Rourke both moving on from their 'right-hand man' roles.

But just when McCartan looked to have missed every boat in finding a suitable replacement, Niall Moyna was produced out of the blue.

Moyna looked all set for Roscommon but diverted north instead, where his four years working with Pat Gilroy on the Dublin project should be put to good use.

The success of the strong No 2 was well emphasised over the last two seasons by the manner in which Rory Gallagher has operated in Donegal or the framework in which Mickey Whelan operated as coach in Dublin to Gilroy.

And in the past, several managers have graduated through the 'boot room.' It may not be as dramatic as Jose Mourinho's jump from Bobby Robson's translator at Barcelona but John Allen was the Cork hurling team's masseur in 1999. Within six years, he had guided them to an All-Ireland title.

Change, it seems, is everywhere, especially in Gaelic football. In all, just nine of the 31 counties (London have been excluded) that will contest the 2013 National League will retain the core of the management teams that they had in 2012.

There are 14 new managers outright but another eight managers have made some small tweak to their back-room team or, in the case of Cork and Down, quite significant changes. Of the 14 new managerial appointments made, five have recently served in the back-room teams of other managements.

O'Rourke had two years under Kieran McGeeney in Kildare and a further year with McCartan in Down before striking out on his own with Louth.

Another McGeeney graduate, Niall Carew, caused surprise last month when he cut his ties with Kildare after five years, having been confirmed for a sixth year as a selector in September. But he caused even more surprise earlier this month when he was appointed as the new Waterford manager.

His fellow county man Anthony Rainbow had a year under Luke Dempsey in Carlow before taking over on Dempsey's departure.

And the most significant graduation of any No 2 was Paul Grimley to the Armagh post, just weeks after Paddy O'Rourke had stepped down.

Grimley is undoubtedly the most travelled assistant of recent times with six 'tours of duty' in five different counties – Armagh (2002-06 with Joe Kernan and 2012 with Paddy O'Rourke), Cavan (2007 with Donal Keogan), Kildare (2008-09 with Kieran McGeeney), Monaghan (2010 with Seamus McEnaney) and Meath (2011 under McEnaney again).

Technically Cavan's Terry Hyland has graduated as well, as he started 2012 as Val Andrews' assistant. When Andrews quit after the league, Hyland took over but he had been officially joint-manager in 2011.

But there's a trend too of former managers going back into management teams as No 2s or just trusted back-room men.

Apart from Ryan, Paddy Crozier – who guided Derry to a league final win over Kerry in 2008 – is back in to help Brian McIver, who is not long out of a stint himself as an assistant to McCartan in Down.

In Roscommon, John Evans has brought in former manager Gay Sheerin, while Grimley has called on Peter McDonnell to be one of his selectors in Armagh. McDonnell replaced Joe Kernan at the end of 2007 but stayed just two years before leaving with some stern parting words.

Hurling management teams appear more constant for 2013, though Eamonn O'Shea's appointment in Tipperary sees another No 2 graduate to the top job.

Irish Independent

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