Sport GAA

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Eugene McGee: Mayo mutiny prompts the question of who's dictating the search for new boss

30 August 2014; Mayo manager James Horan during the game. GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final Replay, Kerry v Mayo, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
30 August 2014; Mayo manager James Horan during the game. GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship, Semi-Final Replay, Kerry v Mayo, Gaelic Grounds, Limerick. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Eugene McGee

The GAA has always prided itself on its democracy, often too much, maybe. But on Friday night GAA democracy was set aside when the decision of the Mayo footballers midweek ended with the inevitable departure of the county's joint-managers, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly.

Here we have an unelected body of GAA people undermining the authority of the Mayo county board by ousting their managers. And to add insult to injury they did not apparently have the courtesy to inform the managers, the county board, nor the Mayo GAA supporters of the reasons for their behaviour.

Of course there are rumours in Mayo and elsewhere as to those reasons, but to date the players are singing dumb, for the first time all year by the way. But let's just remind ourselves of facts that we all do know about the Mayo football team, their various managers, and their numerous other backroom people.

We know that largely the same Mayo panel have taken part in seven All-Ireland semi-finals in the past five years and managed to win just two. They have played in two All-Ireland finals and lost both, which means that out of nine high-grade national competition games Mayo have won TWO and failed to win SEVEN.

Never in the history of the GAA has a county played in as many semi-finals and finals over such a condensed period without winning even one All-Ireland. It is important to stress this fact, and the recent history of Mayo, in order to put in context what has led up to these latest developments.

With no information coming from the Mayo players recently we are entitled to accept that they believe it is the managements of the teams in this period that are responsible for their catalogue of failure and, by definition, that must mean that the players themselves believe they are not the cause of the failures.

So that brings us to the management people. For the relevant period there were only three persons who filled the role, James Horan (for four seasons), and Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly (this year). It is generally acknowledged that Horan was successful during his period in that he kept Mayo in the top four teams in the country.

He also changed the face of the Mayo team by moving them into the real world of modern football where the competition at the highest level is cut-throat, fitness levels are at a pinnacle, and levels of dedication are better than ever before in the county. That still was not good enough to bring back Sam Maguire for the first time since 1951.

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In 2015, after Horan  retired of his own accord, Holmes and Connelly were appointed which was not unusual since they had managed Mayo to a national title as 2006 U-21 winners, with many of the present panel being involved. Once again Mayo did very well by reaching the All-Ireland semi-final and drawing with Dublin before losing the replay to the eventual champions.

Which means that in their first season the new pair had almost matched Horan's performance. It was reasonable to assume therefore that in their second season the pairing would achieve better results.

The players clearly believe otherwise, hence the latest Mayo football fracas.

So now we arrive at the most critical decision of all - who is going to appoint the next Mayo manager: the county board, or the players? If it is the latter then how will they go about getting Horan back in, assuming, of course, he wishes to return?

In the GAA's constitution it is county boards that have ultimate responsibility in appointing a team manager, not the players, or any other section of the association.

In recent disputes between county players and county boards, the former always looked for very high demands from the latter as the price for a settlement. It will be no different in this case. I will be surprised if a list of players' demands has not already been made to the board, which will virtually tie the hands of the county board as was attempted in the Cork disputes.


At this point things usually get nasty if the county board refuses to accept the demands. Club delegates around Mayo will have to be brought into the discussion and eventually they must propose nominations for the manager's position. Sooner or later the Mayo players will have to explain to the GAA public their reasons for the decision they took to shaft Holmes and Connelly. So it is unlikely that we will have an early decision on Mayo's new manager.

To generalise for a moment, on the modern trend of as many as 20 people being part of the running of an intercounty team.

It is quite possible that one or more of the many 'experts' in the backroom team may emerge to be more popular with some players than they are with the manager. This runs the risk of the manager having less control and influence over some players than others.

It also lends itself to some players being manager's 'pets', something that is quite common even in the most successful teams.

So when a new manager comes in the pets can often get a shock if the new man has a different style of carrying on. I have no idea if this happened in Mayo but I would not be surprised, especially when one manager was in charge for four seasons.

The most important requirement therefore for a county team manager nowadays is be highly efficient in man-management, such as a person running a company or a teacher in charge of a large school.

God be with the days when some of us had to survive with five or six helpers, settled rows with players within the camp, and still managed to win the All-Ireland!

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