Tuesday 20 August 2019

Maughan all too aware how fickle inter-county management is as he backs second-tier push

Offaly manager John Maughan. Photo: Sportsfile
Offaly manager John Maughan. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

On Sunday John Maughan will create his own piece of history, becoming the first to manage in all four provincial championships.

With Clare, his native Mayo and Fermanagh, he has already experienced Munster, Connacht and Ulster, enjoying success with Clare in 1992 and Mayo in 1996, '97, '99 and 2004.

But with years of experience, a certain pragmatism has developed and with the spectre of Dublin dominance hanging over Leinster, Maughan knows that if there are fruitful days ahead for his latest project, Offaly, they most likely lie beyond the province.

It's why the idea of a second-tier competition really appeals to him now. As manager of Clare in 1991, Maughan saw their All-Ireland 'B' championship success as pivotal to their Munster success the following year.

Different times now, he concedes, but still he sees the value. "It's crying out for a two-tier system. I've been involved in All-Ireland 'B' championship wins with Clare and Fermanagh. With Clare, in particular, the confidence (gained) and the fun, I remember it being celebrated, the first adult competition that Clare had won in decades. It was Longford we beat in Ballinasloe and it propelled Clare football at the time.

"Having the likes of Carlow, Wexford and Offaly competing at that level, it's a no-brainer. You've got to address some issue there."

It's why he speaks more enthusiastically about next year's Division 3 campaign after maintaining their status with a 74th-minute winner against Sligo on the last day.

Maughan knew the consequences for himself as much as the team if they had been relegated and how the dark clouds would have hovered over him.

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"They would have questioned me for a start and said, 'What's he doing up here'. It would have knocked the stuffing out of the lads. It just would. I'm not being disrespectful to the teams in Division 4 but for Offaly, if they were going to move on and have sunnier times, they need to be playing a different standard," he said.

"Look at the quality in Division 3 next year - Cork, Tipperary, Derry, Down, Leitrim - it is going to bring on Offaly football."

His pragmatism informs him that he may not even be Offaly manager next year to oversee that project. His experience in Roscommon, now 11 years behind him, still bites.

"It's a very fickle business, you have no idea when things might turn. I have had experience of it turning before. Everything can be rosy in the garden one week; a couple of weeks later, the knives are out. I'm fully aware of that. I have experienced both sides of it. You are carried shoulder high one day, the next thing, 'Get him out, he's no good.' That's the nature of the business we are in. I'm in it because I love it, enjoy it. I didn't think I would enjoy Offaly as much as I do."

Sunday will pit him as a manager against Meath for the first time in a championship game since the infamous 1996 All-Ireland final replay that left subsequent bitterness between the counties.

Maughan has long moved on, and has gotten to know Seán Boylan much better since coaching Boylan's son Ciarán with Mayo junior side Achill.

He has also accepted Offaly's policy of not playing any U-20s on their senior championship team. That was an issue for last year's management under Stephen Wallace and for one of the players affected, Cian Johnson.

Johnson is one of province's most promising players but remains out of Maughan's reach this year.

"I have accepted it, we haven't gone there. He is the future and hopefully a lot of those U-20s will come in," he said.

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