Thursday 23 November 2017

I got flak for taking McGeeney off -- but it was the right call

Martin Breheny/Joe Kernan

Management is about making decisions. It's about backing your judgment and living with the consequences.

It's about being your own person, although not to the extent that you ignore what everybody else says. Indeed, as far as team selection or changes in Armagh were concerned, I never made a decision without discussing it with Paul Grimley, John McCloskey and John Rafferty, when he came on board. That's why they were there.

One of the hardest calls I had to make during a game was in the 2005 All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone. I took off Kieran McGeeney after 63 minutes and sent in Enda McNulty, a decision that I knew would have repercussions if we lost.

'Geezer' was more than just our captain, he was very much the on-field leader, the enforcer who got things done. The Armagh public loved him, his colleagues looked up to him and I trusted him implicitly, both as a player and as a man.

It was against that background that I found it very difficult to take him off. As it happened, we lost the semi-final by a point which, inevitably, left me open to accusations of getting it badly wrong.

I know that Kieran was very put out about it, which was understandable. I got some stick for taking him off from some sections of the media and the Armagh supporters, but I still maintain it was the right thing to do. I have no regrets about it and, having looked back, I remain convinced that it certainly wasn't the reason we lost that game.

It was claimed afterwards -- by some people who wanted to make mischief -- that it was a decision I took on my own without reference to Paul Grimley and John McCloskey, but nothing could be further from the truth. Although the call was, ultimately, down to me, they were both heavily involved in the decision.

The balance of power in that game had see-sawed over and back all afternoon, Tyrone making much of the running with us coming back at them. Indeed, we took the lead for the first time in the 58th minute.

However, there was something else going on which was of concern to us. 'Geezer' hadn't been in the game for quite some time and certainly wasn't making the impact that we needed at that stage. I spoke to John and Paul to see what they thought.

After our discussions, I felt it would be best to wait a few minutes and see how things developed.

Besides, other things were happening which needed attention. Andy Mallon was beginning to have some problems with Peter Canavan so we needed to address that. Enda McNulty, who was sitting on the bench and eager for action, had a good record against Canavan so putting him into the full-back line and releasing Andy to the half-back line looked a decent option.

'Geezer' still hadn't got into the game, so I went back to speak to Paul and John.

"Things haven't changed lads ... what should we do about it?"

We talked for a little while about bringing Enda into the full-back line, switching out Andy and taking off 'Geezer'. Andy had plenty of pace which he could use to our advantage from the half-back line.

"Get Enda ready," I told John.

When we lost, it was claimed in some quarters that taking 'Geezer' off had cost us the game. I expected that people might make that connection but I don't believe it to be true. Lots of great players have been taken off over the years and, while it's always a tough decision to make, that's what management are there for.

Kieran has been managing Kildare for the past few years and now knows how lonely and difficult a role it can be. I'm sure he will be in management for a long time to come and will probably find himself faced with the sort of decision I had to take in that 2005 All-Ireland semi-final.

What's more, it will hurt him just as much as it hurt me when I took him off that day.

All I can say is that it was done with the right intentions.

Even Mickey Harte acknowledged there was method in what I was doing and pointed out in his autobiography that it would have been regarded as a masterstroke if we had won. But we didn't, so I took the flak.

Irish Independent

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