Donnchadh Boyle: Value of succession planning is becoming more and more clear to counties
The Evenings are closing in now and county championships are just starting to wind up.
And ever since the summer’s championships were wrapped up earlier than ever before, there has been a strange sense of things being out of sync around the GAA world. Probably nothing was more disconcerting than an effectively empty September which used to play host to the most significant action.
So, adjustments have had to be made. And apart from creating more space in the calendar for the club championships to be run off, it gave boards more time to conduct their reviews and appoint new managers.
However, still some of the biggest counties have yet to conclude their business in terms of who will lead their sides in 2019. The horses are still being traded in Kerry. There’s give and take and buying and selling in a bid to come up with a name for next Monday night’s meeting.
Mayo’s job was made significantly easier by Mike Solan’s decision to step out of a two-horse race but there’s still the formal ratification process to go through to reappoint James Horan.
Over the last few years, it has become a growing trend within the GAA that when appointments are made and backroom teams are formed, the next senior manager is in there somewhere. Or at least, already working for that county in one capacity or another.
Looking at what’s coming down the road, rather than what is right in front of you, has become part of the process.
For example, it was an open secret that Jim Gavin would replace Pat Gilroy whenever he decided to step down from Dublin. As a successful U-21 manager it made perfect sense. Gavin’s current deal runs until 2019 and could well extend beyond that but when he does walk away, there would be significant surprise in the county if Dessie Farrell, despite his public utterances, wasn’t the next man up.
A link from one management team to another is crucial. Rather than starting from scratch every time a new appointment is made, counties can build on the work already done.
Tipp have regularly appointed from within. Eamon O’Shea had already been part of a successful set-up when he was appointed. They went one step further when announcing Michael Ryan as O’Shea’s successor a full 12 months before his departure. Ryan was serving as a selector at the time.
With Liam Sheedy back on board, he has turned to Tommy Dunne to be his coach. Dunne too has already been part of a Tipperary senior set-up and is considered by some to be a Tipp manager in waiting.
Of course the best-laid plans can go up in smoke. Kerry took a bold move in handing Eamonn Fitzmaurice the reins until 2020 in October of last year. The move was criticised in some quarters but it made sense to have continuity given the talent Kerry needed to mould. Roughly ten months later that plan was in ruins and Kerry have had to start again.
Mayo can make a similar case with Stephen Rochford’s departure as can the Dublin hurlers. County boards are operating in a difficult area because even the biggest sporting outfits in the world can get it wrong. Alex Ferguson hand-picked David Moyes to succeed him at Manchester united. It was probably one of the most important decisions he had to make in his time there but his fellow Scot lasted just eight months in the job. Since then they have struggled to reach former heights under a succession of managers.
At least now there looks to be a shape on things for Mayo. When Horan steps down next time around, there’ll hardly be a more qualified candidate than Solan. When Kerry announce their new man there will likely be one eye on the future too.
For a long time, players have been groomed with an eye on a few years down the road. Last year, the talk around Dublin football circles was that Brian Howard was ready to play his part. Dublin didn’t unleash him until this year but the talk was proven correct. Howard had a stellar season. Kieran Kingston can make similar claims about the horde of young Cork stars he revealed to the hurling world last summer.
That they hit the ground running and delivered a Munster title was of no surprise to him. And in the same way managers are being prepared. More and more, appointments are being made with one eye on what’s coming down the road.