Sunday 18 March 2018

Comment - Attrition rate reflects harsh realities for managers

Risk will usually outweigh reward for those brave enough to assume inter-county roles

Former manager and then selector Rory Gallagher celebrates Donegal’s 2012 SFC victory with Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher. Photo: Sportsfile
Former manager and then selector Rory Gallagher celebrates Donegal’s 2012 SFC victory with Michael Murphy and Neil Gallagher. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

'A tough two years to be honest," reflected Peadar Healy as he announced his departure as Cork football manager.

"At this level, you just need to devote your life to it. That's the way it's going, especially when you're on the managerial side of it. It's that professional," he continued, wondering if only retirement or a job that has such flexibility in the summertime now made it possible.

It was a dignified departure from Healy whose time in charge had drawn so much adverse comment.

At the outset it looked an attractive job. Even in the leanest of times Cork have always been able to mount a sustained challenge, but the slow ebb of confidence continued from league to championship and league to championship again, bookended by two decent performances against Mayo.

In the end, there can have been nothing but relief in walking away from it all.

A week earlier Pete McGrath sat down to a meeting with player representatives, in accordance with the charter drawn up between the GAA and Gaelic Players Association, to discuss a future that McGrath had committed to.

Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath. Photo: Sportsfile
Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath. Photo: Sportsfile

Four years into the job McGrath's work had been most progressive in year two and year three but with injuries mounting his final year fell short of expectation.

Still, he wasn't expecting the tone of the conversation that soon developed with the players he had met and read the signs quickly when it was suggested that some of the squad would not be returning if he remained in place. It didn't take him long to hit the road.

"When players veer into the arena where they feel they have some kind of entitlement or some kind of right to influence an appointment of a team manager, where does that lead to, ultimately?" McGrath asked.

"Does that lead to a situation where every team manager knows that he ultimately is at the mercy of players? And somehow he has to pander to players to keep them sweet.

"I know this is happening in other counties and I think it is extremely regrettable, I think it is a pernicious thing," he added.

Peter Creedon had the support of the Laois County Board executive and the majority of players despite a disappointing year that brought relegation to Division 4 and early championship exit after defeats to Kildare and Clare.

But the suggestion at a County Board meeting that there was a "drink culture" within the squad, something they vehemently denied, set him and his back-room thinking, prompting a decision to quit because of potential for the county to be "divisive."

Three departed inter-county football managers, three different reasons for their departure, all succumbing to different pressure points associated with the job.

Perhaps Pat Flanagan could be added to that list but his three-year term had run its course and despite his desire to stay on and the plans he had, the Offaly Board decided to move on and seek candidates from elsewhere.

Good luck to them with that. We'll hazard a guess that they'll still be searching for a candidate in a couple of months time. As will some of the other eight counties who currently have vacancies. And before the championship winds up there's sure to be at least two more, bringing the departures into double figures again after a lull last year when only five left their positions - not including the rift that developed in Roscommon where Kevin McStay went from joint manager to manager outright.

On Monday night Rory Gallagher brought the managerial toll to nine. Maybe his departure isn't so surprising in the context of Donegal's defeats to Tyrone and Galway but in five previous campaigns - three league and two championship - Gallagher had kept standards high with Donegal and should have been enough to weather the storm.

Gallagher must have read the winds differently, however. Having sought a lengthy extension to his term last year, he knew the changes required would be long and challenging for the county.

By keeping Donegal comfortably in Division 1, despite the scale of personnel change, the championship bar went higher but the jump they required was unattainable.

There have been suggestions that some of the abuse directed at him since the Galway defeat may have been a factor in his departure. Goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley referenced "keyboard warriors" while former manager Brian McEniff said the abuse took place had "no place in an amateur sport."

But Gallagher has made it clear in a statement last night that any such abuse has no impact on his life and played no part in his decision to step down.

That said, it was there, underlining that the requirement for results, even in a county where a complete rebuild is necessary, is constant.

Hurling managers don't escape vitriol either. Waterford's loss to Cork in the Munster semi-final in June brought a sharp focus on Derek McGrath's four-year stewardship.

A league title, reaching another league final and making two out of three All-Ireland semi-finals (now three out of four), couldn't cut him much slack either.

So much so that, after their win over Kilkenny, the Waterford players made a point of emphasising that it was a prime motivating factor.


Watching the vacancies being filled over the next few months will be interesting. The investment of time, the speed of the inter-county carousel these days and the fall-out from decisions that don't work out make the job spec a lot less attractive than they might once have been.

Each county will have a list of preferred candidates but in most cases they'll be politely rebuffed until they dip down into third or fourth choices. With the strong counties consolidating their dominance of provincial titles in this decade the window of opportunities for tangible success is limited.

Thus, the league becomes the primary ground. Louth manager Colin Kelly targeted promotion from Division 4 and subsequently Division3 over the last two years in the knowledge that a Leinster title was out of their reach.

For Laois, Offaly, Westmeath and Wicklow - Leinster counties all searching for new managers - the targets can't be much different, guaranteeing short spells in charge.

Right now the only football counties with managers serving four years or more are Tyrone, Kerry, Dublin, Monaghan and Clare, Colm Collins' steady progress, without a provincial title, bucking the trend.

Anywhere else and there's the potential for carnage. But at least they know in advance what they are letting themselves in for.


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