Wednesday 12 December 2018

Brendan Cummins: Brian Cody not the only manager feeling the heat as nothing less than instant success can keep wolves at bay

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

We live in a world where everything is instant and in the sporting world it has become the norm for Premier League managers to be sacked within two months of their heralded arrival because of the 'I want it, I want it now' attitude to results.

There's a little bit of that creeping into the narrative around GAA managers and it's another pressure that they must deal with in 2018 combined with the new championship format - playing four games in quick succession - which shines a glaring light on the strength and depth of your squad.

The league traditionally allowed younger players to be blooded at senior level as managers stress-test their panels ahead of the summer but with mounting pressure on results, people expect you to fix the plane while it's in the air. That's the demand which those involved in inter-county management must now meet and I know from being at the coalface.

Negativity surrounding results can have a huge knock-on effect on players because they're looking at social media, they're hearing the talk on the street.

If you're without a league win in your first few games, you're meeting people on the street saying, 'Is there a fight inside in camp? Is there trouble? What's going on? Why isn't this fella playing? Why is he playing there instead of him?'

Suddenly, the public opinion seeps in. That might not be the reality as players are happy with training but that's the perception, and that's sometimes more important than reality. The manager's job is to make sure the players maintain the same unwavering belief that he has but that's difficult at times.

Liam Sheedy. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Liam Sheedy. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

You only have to look at the league final last year when people were asking, 'Where do Tipp go from here?' after their hammering from Galway.

In reality, it was a once-off. It was a freak result - as subsequent games proved - but it hit confidence in the county and that fed into the players.

It's a dangerous thing when you start believing what people are saying and that's what happened. Cork reckoned Tipp were wobbling and then we started to believe ourselves that we were teetering on the edge. When that happens, it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

When you talk about a manager and talk about the league, I think it's important to have a bit of context and get into their shoes for a little while just to see what they're dealing with. It puts perspective on things because they're far too easy to draw a kick at and nine times out of ten, things are never as bad or as good as they might look.

There's a fine line between cultivating new talent and getting results. Without the latter, the reality is that you will not be there to oversee their progression the following year. It's a balancing act and will continue to be as last weekend's Division 1A games proved to be as competitive as ever.

Every manager outlined the quality of opposition and, as is always the case after the opening round, they all seem comfortable with the personnel in their panel and the stage of its development. Listing off debutants and praising their efforts given their rookie status is a nice story to tell, it's not all about the final score but it's like walking a tightrope.

Try losing two league games in a row - as Brian Cody (left, above) found out last year after successive defeats - and see what happens. Tougher questioning starts coming from journalists with a more probing tone as they try to identify signs of weakness and find creative ways to ask, 'Why have you lost again and where is the problem?'.

Some managers cope with this stress better than others and their reaction reveals a lot to their players.

When Tipp went to Nowlan Park to play Kilkenny in the 2009 league, we were all set to make our mark before subsequently being blown away by the greatest GAA team of them all and beaten out the gate by half-time, trailing 5-9 to 0-4.

As the Tipp supporters left the ground the cry was, 'Lock the doors and make them watch it' while deep in the bowels of the stand Liam Sheedy (left, below) was faced with an impossible task. This was suddenly more than just a league game, it was a full-blown crisis and how he dealt with it could decide our future.

You learn a lot about your manager in these types of situations and with all of us sitting quietly with our heads between our legs awaiting a tongue-lashing, Liam told us that the game was gone. 'Just make sure you go out and win the second half and when it's over I'll take the rap'.

We did win the second half but what struck me after was the lonely sight of Liam leaving the dressing room alone and walking down the narrow corridor to face the media as he attempted to explain the unexplainable.

The fact that he stood up for us showed huge courage and leadership and as a result it created a bond in us that was never broken - we might not have always won but that group was solidified.

Managers need to be brave and show loyalty to their young talent in the face of adversity. If they do, that loyalty will more often than not be repaid by their performances.

There will be no talk or consideration of a crisis in the world of Michael Ryan, Derek McGrath or Cody after losing one game, but they'll be doing their damnedest to arrest any talk of a slide when they take to the field this weekend. Otherwise, the fear kicks in and nobody wants that.

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