Wednesday 18 September 2019

No country for old managers

The end of John Brennan's reign in Derry marked a significant milestone for Gaelic football where young managers, spearheaded by Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney (R), are increasingly taking the reins of inter-county teams
The end of John Brennan's reign in Derry marked a significant milestone for Gaelic football where young managers, spearheaded by Kildare boss Kieran McGeeney (R), are increasingly taking the reins of inter-county teams

John Brennan's removal as Derry football manager at the end of his two-year term may have thieved the inter-county scene of one of its great characters.

But it has also presented another probable and significant milestone for his code. For the first time in recent memory, unless one of the six remaining counties who have yet to fill a vacancy decide otherwise, there will be no 60-something manager on the sidelines in 2013.

For the 15 years up to last year, back to the beginning of his second stint as Kildare manager in late 1996, Mick O'Dwyer had ensured a consistent presence of a 60-plus manager. But the departure of O'Dwyer and more recently Brennan has changed the landscape once more.

No country for old men? It's been that way for a while.

Prior to the start of the 2011 championship, Brian McEniff was quizzed on the subject of ageism in Gaelic football management and admitted the game he left as Donegal manager in 1994 and the game he came back to in 2003 were so far apart that he was staggered by it.

He recalled a league match against Armagh and how his Donegal team were thrown around "like rag dolls".

"I found myself looking around for strength and conditioning coaches and was asking myself, 'what am I doing here?'"

McEniff found his return to the game for three years a taxing experience.

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Over the weekend, the highly experienced Frank Dawson bucked the trend when he was proposed for ratification at last night's Antrim County Board meeting to replace Liam Bradley. Dawson is 56.

Last week alone, however, Leinster rivals Dublin and Meath both finalised appointments of managers just either side of the 40 mark. Meath have opted for 38-year-old Mick O'Dowd, subject to ratification, while the deal is done with 41-year-old Jim Gavin.

And last night, Louth opted for former Armagh defender Aidan O'Rourke (36) to step into the vacancy left by Peter Fitzpatrick.

It's not unprecedented for either county to appoint managers of such an age profile. Pat Gilroy was only 37 when he took over from Paul Caffrey, while Sean Boylan was still shy of 40 when he landed the Meath position in 1982.

By our reckoning, the average age of the 28 inter-county Gaelic football managers already in position for 2013 is just over 44, stretching from the most junior, Offaly's Emmet McDonnell at 33, to the most senior, Derry's Brian McIver at 58.

Of those 28, some 15 are four years either side of 40 with the greatest concentration between the ages of 40 and 41.

The contrast with hurling is significant with just one manager, Offaly's 38-year-old Ollie Baker, in next year's Liam MacCarthy Cup likely to be under the age of 40.

Yet, while it is a more common trend it is most certainly not a new phenomenon.

When Dr Eamonn O'Sullivan took over the training of the Kerry team in 1924 at the invitation of his friend Phil O'Sullivan, he was 24. They won the All-Ireland that year and Dr Eamonn would go on to create a dynasty in subsequent years.

Eugene McGee was just 35 when he took over as Offaly manager in 1977. Five years later he was an All-Ireland-winning manager.

By then, O'Dwyer and Kevin Heffernan were iconic management figures. Etched forever in people's minds is the image of them as sages, doyens of the sideline.

But it's easy to forget that O'Dwyer was 38 when he first assumed responsibility for Kerry in late 1974, Heffernan just a few years beyond 40 when he began the process of dramatically transforming football in the capital.

It's easier still to forget that John Maughan was 28 when the idea struck Noel Walsh that he would make a fine manager of Clare. Within two years they had caused one of the great shocks of modern day football with a Munster football final win over Kerry in 1992.

"I never found it one bit intimidating going into a dressing-room where I knew some of the players would be older than me. It wasn't an issue at all for me, nor was it an issue for the players," recalled Maughan.

Maughan, who had been in charge of four different counties by the age of 42, including his native Mayo twice, recognises the significance of the decreasing age profile and the disappearance of the 60-something manager.

"It's a question of energy. If they have that then age is irrelevant but the schedule and the work load of a manager is so great now that really you are looking at someone of a younger age profile," he said.

O'Dwyer has been the obvious exception, taking Kildare and Laois to Leinster titles while in his 60s.

But his advantage was his constant presence on the sideline, a two-year sabbatical (1995-96) during his spells at Kildare the only time he was out of inter-county management since taking charge of the Kerry U-21s in 1974.

Getting back on the carousel after disembarking is the difficult part. Look at the pace of change of Gaelic football over the last five years. Look at the body and facial features of players over a 10-year period and see the scale of that change.

The disconnect between generations may have grown too. "The gap between a fella in his 20s and someone in his 50s is probably greater now than it was 30 years ago," accepts McGee. "You have to speak their language."

On the starting grid for next year's Leinster championship will be six new managers. Two have yet to be appointed but of the four that have been put in place over the last two months, Gavin and Anthony Rainbow in Carlow are the oldest at 41.

When Kerry were sounding out a manager to replace Jack O'Connor, the players made it abundantly clear who they wanted to see.

Anyone else could have provoked a stream of retirements. They wanted a face they could identify with (Eamonn Fitzmaurice).

It's far from a new phenomenon. But it's clear how big a factor it's become when county boards go about making their appointments.

Age of managers in place for 2013

33 -- Emmet McDonnell (Offaly)

36 -- Eamonn Fitzmaurice (Kerry),

Aidan O'Rourke (Louth)

37 -- Justin McNulty (Laois),

Maurice Horan (Limerick)

38 -- Mick O'Dowd (Meath)

39 -- Jim McGuinness (Donegal)

40 -- Kieran McGeeney (Kildare),

Glen Ryan (Longford),

James Horan (Mayo)

41 -- Anthony Rainbow (Carlow),

Peter Canavan, right (Fermanagh),

Jim Gavin (Dublin),

James McCartan (Down)

43 -- Peter Creedon (Tipperary)

44 -- George Dugdale (Leitrim, joint manager Barney Breen is 46)

46 -- Malachy O'Rourke (Monaghan)

51 -- Pat Flanagan (Westmeath)

52 -- Conor Counihan (Cork),

Harry Murphy (Wicklow)

53 -- Terry Hyland (Cavan)

54 -- Paul Grimley (Armagh)

56 -- Frank Dawson (Antrim)

57 -- Mickey Harte (Tyrone)

58 -- Brian McIver (Derry)

* Roscommon, Waterford and Clare have yet to finalise managers for 2013. New York and London were not included.

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