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Good men do make difference

Ask anyone to list the top managers in Gaelic games over the past decade and chances are the same few names will keep popping up. Brian Cody, Mickey Harte, Jack O'Connor, Liam Sheedy, Donal O'Grady, Joe Kernan. There might be an odd vote for Justin McCarthy. Maybe a mention for John Allen.

The one thing that most of these managers have in common is that they were lucky enough to be blessed with gifted players. Cody and O'Connor, for example, are undoubtedly terrific managers but landing the job of managing the Kilkenny hurlers or Kerry footballers is to a certain extent like being handed the keys to a Porsche Carrera GT. O'Grady and Sheedy, at the time of their appointments, would also have been entitled to think that booking holidays in September mightn't be the wisest thing to do.

But there is another class of boss, the kind of guy who will probably never get asked to put his name to a bestselling ghosted autobiography and is unlikely to be troubled by a phone call from The Late Late Show, but whose feats at the lower end of the inter-county food chain also suggest considerable managerial talents.

Take Jason Ryan. There's remarkably little fuss made of this man. Yet he was just 32 when in 2008 he brought Wexford all the way to the All-Ireland semi-final where they gave eventual champions Tyrone a terrific game. That last year's campaign, where Wexford took Dublin to extra-time, knocked out Galway and gave Cork a decent game in the qualifiers passed almost unnoticed, says a lot about the standards Wexford and Ryan had set.

Most significantly, Wexford's victories this season have come in the absence of the retired Matty Forde. Back in 2008 there was a tendency to regard Forde as a kind of one-man team. This did scant justice to both Ryan and the other players on the side who have proved a point in this campaign.

Wexford's path to the decider will be barred by Carlow, managed by another man, Luke Dempsey, whose inter-county career has been all about getting the best of limited resources and whose achievement in steering a team who previously looked like the best argument for a B Championship past Louth means he's had a great year whatever else happens. Meanwhile, Roscommon, who were in pitiful shape when Fergal O'Donnell took over, are only 70 minutes away from winning consecutive Connacht titles for the first time in 20 years.

Chances are that Ryan, Dempsey, O'Donnell and their teams will be gone long before we reach September. But that doesn't change the fact that this trio are, in their own way, not much less impressive than the Codys, Hartes and O'Connors of this world.

In football, there are perhaps only three or four teams ahead of the others. Between numbers 5 and 30, pretty much anybody can beat anybody else if they get it right. Sometimes just one good man can make all the difference.

Sunday Indo Sport