Friday 18 October 2019

Offaly seeking 15th football manager since last Leinster triumph

Wallace: Watching Offaly footballers from the stands last Sunday. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Wallace: Watching Offaly footballers from the stands last Sunday. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When Paul O'Kelly was ushered out the door as Offaly football manager after just one year in charge in 2003, it drew a furious reaction from long-serving defender Finbar Cullen who promptly announced his retirement from the inter-county game as a result of the actions of the review committee who had recommended his removal.

Offaly, under O'Kelly, had lost games to Laois and Roscommon in the Leinster Championship and All-Ireland qualifiers and Cullen felt the performances on both counts were worthy of a manager who ought to be kept.

Back then Offaly weren't dealing in long-term agreements with their managers, preferring to conduct reviews at the end of each campaign.

O'Kelly got the thumbs down, his replacement Gerry Fahy very nearly did at a County Board meeting 12 months later to ratify him for another year in charge. Fahy survived by just one vote - a mandate that he felt was nowhere as strong as it should be to continue. His resignation prompted a strike by the existing playing squad who, mindful of O'Kelly's treatment a year earlier, wanted his return.

All-Ireland SFC winning manager Eugene McGee was brought in to mediate but even after resolution was found, Fahy was not restored.

In the quest for perfection, Offaly have repeatedly left themselves in a right old mess when it has come to choosing and retaining managers. They are currently seeking a 14th different manager since Tommy Lyons - the last man to guide them to a Leinster title in 1997 - stepped away two years later.

Only two managers, Padraig Nolan from 2000 to 2002 and Pat Flanagan from 2015 to 2017, have lasted three years. Tom Cribbin, who replaced interim manager Tom Coffey, was involved for three years too but only took over on an interim basis during the 2009 league after Richie Connor had stepped down early in the season and Coffey came in as head of an interim management team.

That was the first of Coffey's two spells as interim manager of his native county as he also replaced Gerry Cooney who quit after a disappointing 2012 league campaign. But Coffey only remained for that year's championship.

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Ironically, the chairman for both years that the O'Kelly/Fahy controversies flared up was Tommy Byrne, the current incumbent who made the call on Wednesday night to relieve Stephen Wallace of his duties after a County Board management meeting.

No county has experienced such managerial upheaval as Offaly since the turn of the century.

Even derby rivals Laois have had three less across the same period of time. Other neighbouring counties like Kildare have had six different managers (Mick O'Dwyer, Padraig Nolan, John Crofton, Kieran McGeeney, Jason Ryan and now Cian O'Neill) since 1997, while Meath have had seven (Sean Boylan, Eamonn Barry, Colm Coyle, Eamonn O'Brien, Seamus McEnaney, Mick O'Dowd and now Andy McEntee).

Standards in the Faithful County have been poor, but their inability to give managers sufficient time, or make the wrong choices at the outset, has compounded their problems. The 'revolving doors' policy has operated to a lesser degree with the hurling team.

Pascal Kellaghan - who had success with Rhode at club level and showed promise as U-21 manager in recent times - looked like the logical choice to take on the job last year but, apparently, received no approach about it.

A committee is currently working to find a 15th manager in the last two decades to replace Wallace who, according to Byrne, has been removed because of his two-month suspension for an incident in a club game in Kerry last month. Yet, that issue wasn't raised prior to last Sunday's shock defeat to Wicklow.

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