Thursday 22 February 2018

Younger managers getting the nod from boards in search of the right man

Former Galway star Kevin
Walsh has made a huge
impact as Sligo manager
Former Galway star Kevin Walsh has made a huge impact as Sligo manager

THE managerial merry-go-round is gathering momentum, but it's a young man's ride now more than ever.

Across the country, a trend has developed where younger managers are being given the nod. Some have taken the traditional route via club management or an apprenticeship as a selector, while others are being handed inter-county jobs despite having little or no experience.

For the 2011 football championship, 11 football managers were young enough to have played inter-county football in the 2000s.

The birth of the current trend can be traced back to Kieran McGeeney, whose uncompromising pursuit of excellence as a player was enough to get him the Kildare job in late 2007, just months after bringing his playing career to an end.

And in every province, the gambles are paying off. James Horan had just steered Ballintubber to the first senior county final in their history when he was handed the reins in Mayo ahead of Tommy Lyons, who had steered Dublin to within an inch of an All-Ireland final in 2002.

The move raised eyebrows. Horan's record as a player wasn't in doubt, but he was replacing a double All-Ireland-winning manager in John O'Mahony.

They endured a very shaky start against London, needing extra-time and some luck to get past the Exiles, but Horan delivered a Connacht title and their most significant championship result in years when they dethroned All-Ireland champions Cork in the quarter-final in Croke Park.

Maurice Horan steered Limerick to a last-eight appearance this year while in 2010 Fergal O'Donnell delivered a first Connacht title to Roscommon since he captained the 2001 side.

Jim McGuinness was more experienced, having helped his club to senior success in Donegal and steered the U-21 side to last year's All-Ireland final decider.

At just 39, McGuinness would have been familiar with a number of the Donegal panel as he lined out along with a number of the county's senior players, such as Kevin Cassidy and Michael Hegarty.

However, his first season delivered a Division 2 title, an Ulster championship, as well as an All-Ireland semi-final appearance.

There are others. Pat Gilroy's ascension to Dublin manager three years ago caught almost everyone off guard and at the moment, life after Gilroy is difficult for Dublin to contemplate.

Elsewhere, Jason Ryan was a virtual unknown until he steered Wexford to an All-Ireland semi-final appearance and he has since made them a consistent force, while James McCartan went one better in his first season with Down.

But perhaps the most spectacular gamble came in Sligo when they handed Kevin Walsh the job. Walsh had all but fallen off the radar since retiring from playing with Galway after winning two All-Ireland medals. He had been linked with the Galway minor job and was in charge of the Aran Islands junior team before Sligo came calling.

The appointment paid off in spades as they landed successive promotions, came within a whisker of beating Kerry in the qualifiers and defeated Galway and Mayo in the same championship for the first time. And, while 2011 was a forgettable year for the Yeats men, Walsh's tenure is still very much in the credit side of the ledger.

And the trend looks set to continue, despite the fact that the most successful manager in the history of football, Mick O'Dwyer, has made it known that he is interested in managing again, should the right offer come along.

Brian Dooher has joined Tyrone as a selector immediately after retiring, while Meath's Graham Geraghty will try to combine a similar role with a playing career.

And, with the vast majority of those 11 managers expected to return for 2012 and another couple of names in the hat for some of the posts yet to be filled, it seems that, more and more, county boards are happy to tag 'no experience required' onto their job descriptions.

Irish Independent

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