Friday 15 November 2019

Martin Breheny: Time running out

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

TOM Coffey would have liked to manage the Offaly senior footballers for the next few years. It was assumed when he replaced Gerry Cooney as interim manager in April that he would take over long-term after the championship, but it didn't work out.

Coffey is a sales executive with Tullamore Motors, a new business working hard to make its way in a challenging environment. His livelihood takes priority, and after discussing it with his employers, both sides agreed that it would be impossible for him to combine the two jobs.

"It needs 100pc," said Coffey of his sales duties. "Employment is employment and in the current climate, it has to come first."

Absolutely. Motor sales require Saturday work and, in some cases, late openings on weekdays, an unhelpful combination for anybody involved with a county team.

With Coffey ruled out, Offaly appointed Emmet McDonnell as their 10th football manager in a decade, their fifth since January 2009.


It's a turnover rate which outstrips even the most volatile English soccer club; however, Offaly are now hoping that McDonnell will bring stability to what will be his first county appointment.

Coffey would have found the challenge equally fascinating, but circumstances didn't allow him. It's a case of modern-day management demanding so much time and flexibility that certain jobs can't facilitate it.

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The question is: how many careers are preventing talented people from managing teams, and will it become the preserve of a dwindling number of occupations?

Having lost Coffey to work commitments, Offaly turned to teaching, which has long been the most productive source of inter-county managers. McDonnell is a 33-year-old maths teacher in St Mary's, Edenderry, whom he coached to All-Ireland colleges success this year -- they became the first Offaly school to win the Hogan Cup.

It's an interesting appointment, and since he's taking over at a time when Offaly are in Division 4 and in need of a long-term rebuild, the county board wanted someone whose career would enable him to devote a lot of time and energy to the task over the next few years.

Teachers have always been a huge part of the coaching scene, not just at inter-county but all way down. The GAA leadership have consistently acknowledged this, but in these volatile times when there are regular outbreaks of verbal warfare between the private and public sectors, the amount of time teachers devote to unpaid coaching in all sports is seriously undervalued both by the general public and, even more scandalously, by the Government.

Once the GAA moved to team management based on one main man in the 1970s, it was always likely that teaching would become the dominant profession on the inter-county scene. It was a natural extension to what many teachers were doing anyway.

Over the past 25 years, no fewer than 10 teachers (Cyril Farrell, Ger Loughnane, Michael Bond, Brian Cody, Donal O'Grady, John Allen, Peter McGrath, John O'Mahony, Mickey Harte and Jack O'Connor) coached various counties to All-Ireland success.

Teaching will always remain the main profession of the managerial classes, but as you look elsewhere in these changed economic times, there's a likelihood that other jobs will effectively disqualify people from the inter-county game.

That raises the issue of whether the modern-day management scene has become too big for an amateur sport to bear. It also feeds into illegal payments to managers, which have been on a troublesome agenda for years.

Tom Coffey's dilemma underlines in clear terms how some jobs are incompatible with team management. It became known publicly because he explained why he had to opt out, but how many other cases are there of people who would love to go forward for an inter-county position but who know it's not feasible because of their job?

It seems a great pity that managing amateur teams can only be undertaken by people in certain jobs. It's a loss to those involved and to the GAA, an unfortunate by-product of a scene where professional demands are being placed on people engaged in what's supposed to be their hobby.

And that's before we even get to the pressures on players, where many careers aren't really compatible to inter-county commitments either because of the time involved in both. As economic pressures grow, how many of them will quit the game?

At this rate, all inter-county players will be students, managed by teachers. It wasn't supposed to be like that, now was it?

Irish Independent

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