Friday 23 February 2018

Facing up to bankruptcy and end of my Tribal tribulations

A wise man once said: "There's no tow bar on a hearse." How right he was. I suppose we all tend to lose sight of that from time to time, but it's one of the truest sayings of all.

We all look back at particular years in our lives and analyse them. You could say they fall roughly into three categories: the great years, the tricky years, and the tough years you're glad are over. All you can hope for is that the first outweighs the others. For me, the year 2010 will always be, very definitely, lodged in the third category.

Think of September, and you think of All-Ireland finals. When you're managing a county that has reasonable prospects of making serious progress in the championship, you're in an exciting place.

So, when I took over as Galway manager in September 2009, I felt that, with a bit of luck, we could be in Croke Park for the All-Ireland final a year later. Galway is that sort of county -- as they showed in 1998 and 2001 -- when they get a run going, they grow with the challenge.

There's no point in taking on a job unless you aim to make it work, so my ambitions were at their very highest when I started working with Galway. Who knew what the future held for us? Maybe, September 2010 would be a memorable month for Galway and me.

It wasn't.

Some weeks earlier, I had quit Galway, having been left with no option but to resign after being told that I would have to make changes to my back-room team. I couldn't accept that interference, and left.

It was all very disappointing but it certainly wasn't the only setback I had to deal with at that time. Away from football, I was staring at a deep and personal crisis.

It had been looming for a long time but there's still something chilling about turning on the television to watch the news and seeing your face on the screen, accompanied by a report that you've been declared bankrupt.

There isn't much to laugh at when you're hit with something as traumatic as bankruptcy, but it was comical how the banks seemed to think that I had salted away millions from my days in management. Maybe some of the guys in these banks can't differentiate between Alex Ferguson and the manager of a Gaelic football team, but they definitely thought that management had made me wealthy. It took me a good while to convince the banks that my football activities hadn't made me a cross between Bill Gates and Donald Trump.

I don't want to give the impression that I'm solely blaming the banks for our financial crash. We went in with our eyes open, the same as many others, north and south. People will say that those who went into property were greedy, but it's not that simple.

It was a very natural fit for us as we were already in the estate agency, mortgage, letting, insurance and property businesses. I had started it all off as a small insurance business in the early 1990s. I built up a good business, developed it further over the years and, in due course, my sons Stephen and Aaron joined me. With the lads aboard, it was a chance to expand further, which we did.

I loved the idea of having a business that could provide jobs for my family, all the more since we were running it from an office attached to our house in our hometown of Crossmaglen. To me, it was all about providing security for my wife and five sons, so it seemed logical to expand the business into property at a time when it was very much the thing to do. It worked well for a few years but, unfortunately, we were in too deep when the crash came.

I'm prepared to take responsibility for what happened but, as so many others in our situation discovered, the banks don't want to know you when things start going wrong.

By the time the bankruptcy was formally announced, I had already left Galway. My departure from the Tribesmen is another reason I won't recall much of 2010 with any great fondness.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy my spell in Galway, but I left with a sense of frustration that it was unfinished business. Looking back at my Galway experience, a number of things strike me. For a start, we were desperately unlucky with injuries.

There was also a problem with a lack of consistency. When we played well, it was very good but the bad periods could be terrible. I got a shock in the opening league game against Mayo in Castlebar. I had heard so much about the famous Galway-Mayo rivalry that I was looking forward to a real battle, but it didn't happen. Mayo won easily and I was really disappointed by the lack of mental toughness Galway showed that day.

It's all very well being a skilful side, but you need more than that. Afterwards, I was accused of trying to turn Galway into Armagh replicas which, of course, wasn't true. However, I did want to make them harder in certain respects. I remember a Galway man tapping me on the shoulder after the 2004 National League final where Kerry had just beaten Galway by a point and saying, "Joe, that's how football should be played."

It was, undoubtedly, an enjoyable game to watch. However, there was very little close marking and no real intensity. Sure, there were plenty of great skills on display but they don't always win games.

My Galway friend seemed happy to have contributed to a game like that, even if they lost. I also presumed the Galway supporter was implying something about how Armagh played so I couldn't resist reminding him what had just happened. I turned around and countered, "Yeah, but ye lost."

A few weeks after Wexford knocked Galway out of the 2010 championship, I met John Joe Holleran (football board chairman), Seamus O'Grady (secretary) and Milo Costello (treasurer) for a review and I came away believing that everything was in place for another year. I mentioned some changes that I wanted to make and I thought I had agreement on them.

But then I got a call from John Joe and he told me that, while they wanted me to continue, I would have to change my back-room team. I took that to mean I would have to get rid of John McCloskey as trainer and Paul Hatton as strength and conditioning coach, something I was not prepared to do.

Once I was prevented from appointing the people I felt would do the best job, then I had no option but to resign. I was, after all, bringing these people in for the good of Galway football.

In hindsight, perhaps some of the changes I suggested at the meeting didn't go down all that well. Maybe those suggestions caused a change of heart between the meeting and the phone call to tell me that I would have to alter my back-room team.


I was disappointed my tenure ended the way it did, but I wouldn't have a bad word said against any of the players or indeed most of the people I dealt with in Galway. I was just sorry that I couldn't take them where they were trying to go. I'm also sorry that we didn't get a chance to continue working together.

However, one thing that surprises me is that, despite the unsettling effect on Galway of changing manager after just one season, they did the same thing again this year and removed Tomas O Flatharta.

Why Galway keep doing this is beyond me. Players need stability and changing manager every year makes no sense. It's no longer my concern but I feel sorry for the Galway players, who I still believe are an excellent group with the potential to be very competitive at the highest level.

They aren't being given the best chance to do themselves justice. For their sake, I hope the decision-makers recognise that what happened over the last two seasons was bad for Galway football.

As for me, well, things didn't work out. But I shook hands on the way in and again on the way out, which is as it should be.

Irish Independent

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