Sunday 22 September 2019

Colm Parkinson: Sometimes players have no option but to oust their manager

Inter-county careers are so short these days that you can't waste time in a set-up that is going nowhere

Anthony Cunningham
Anthony Cunningham

Colm Parkinson

There is a large section of GAA supporters and commentators that believe the Galway hurlers and Mayo footballers are disrespectful upstarts. Ger Loughnane went so far as to say the Galway lads "didn't deliver when the pressure came on. Blaming the manager is a pathetic cop-out".

This is a red herring of the highest order. I'd love Ger to tell us exactly how the players blamed Anthony Cunningham for their All-Ireland loss.

The truth is they had a player meeting after their horror showing in the League quarter-final loss to Waterford, on the back of two horror seasons in 2013 and 2014, where they outlined a long list of issues they had with their manager.

It is noticeable that the majority of critics of the Mayo and Galway panels are from an older generation. Training and preparation in the 1980s and 1990s is so far removed from what is required today it's unrecognisable. When I started playing with Laois in 1998, the training was a world apart to when I finished under Justin McNulty in 2011.

Most managers nowadays will hire a physical trainer, strength and conditioning coach, a nutritionist, sports psychologists, physios and a team doctor. This is the easy part and should be a minimum requirement. The mistake a lot of managers make is they think that is the job done, players have what they need. Logistics and setting up a management team should be a given. Any decent soccer manager could come in and do the same thing.

There are so many skills required to being a good manager - man management, leadership, organisation, delegation, communication, confidence, in-game management and intelligence. But what players really want is good coaching.

This might sound strange to some people but I was never really coached at inter-county level. This is despite switching from half-back to half-forward and then to full-forward. Instructions like 'stay tight on your man' or 'move' is not coaching. I was expected to know what runs to make and where to be on the field. I wanted to be told but I had to figure it out myself.

My accuracy was poor when shooting for points, especially with my back to goals, but I was never told what I was doing wrong with my kicking or how I could improve this. I was discouraged, by a few different managers, from kicking with my left foot, despite making a huge effort to improve this skill when I moved into the forwards.

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Management teams at inter-county level, despite vast backroom teams, are lacking in coaches. Telling players individually what is expected of them and how they can improve, figuring out a style of play that suits your players, coaching that style of play and having a back-up plan is what players want. Game-to-game tactics, depending on the opposition, goes hand-in-hand with this.

Doing homework on the opposition is the norm. Players receive information on their direct opponent nowadays; however, this should only be extra information to take home to compliment the work the manager does on the opposition's style of play.

Jim McGuinness said in his book regarding preparing for Dublin in the 2014 All Ireland semi final: "Normally, you would like to have three weeks to prepare for a team but I knew in my heart it wouldn't be enough for Dublin. I spent all my spare hours - between working and preparing for the quarter-final - watching recordings of Dublin games. I was studying as deeply as possible. It meant that once we reached the All-Ireland semi-final and the boys began to turn their thoughts to Dublin, I could say to them: I know what Dublin are about.

"I know what they are going to do and how they are going to do it and that's all you need to know...We sat them down on Tuesday night and went through it all. Then we coached it."

What separates McGuinness from the rest is that he is a manager but also a coach. Not only can he identify weaknesses in the opposition, he can coach tactics to exploit them. Talking about things is one thing but painstakingly running through them on the training ground is another.

Coaching an inter-county team cannot be easy, that's why we don't see many specialised coaches in the game. Telling experienced inter-county players to change their game to suit the style you want must be daunting. Players are quick to spot a bluffer.

Players are savvier now, too. They talk to friends in college who are on other county panels. I remember talking to Alan Brogan about training when we were in college in Maynooth in 2003. He spoke about core work and one-rep maxes and I nodded along without a clue what he was talking about. It wasn't until 2007, when Liam Kearns came in, that I understood.

Inter-county footballers and hurlers' playing careers are getting shorter and shorter. Only this week, three Tipperary hurlers retired at 31, 31 and 29. That was unthinkable even 10 years ago. The commitment is too much now.

I think we're going to see more examples of player power. Players don't have time to waste on managers they believe can't help them improve.

I actually have a lot of sympathy for the three managers ousted and I'm sure they believe they were doing a good job. But instead of calling it a 'pathetic cop-out' I think the Mayo and Galway panels' decisions were incredibly brave. The easy option is to go with the flow, despite being unhappy, and keep your head down. Mayo and Galway players knew they would receive a massive backlash but stuck together and to their convictions despite the intense pressure.

I hope they are rewarded next year on the field of play for their courage.

Irish Independent

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