Wednesday 22 November 2017

How long until the call by players to pick bosses?

Player power has seen off three leading team managements in a year, so how long will it be before they pick the bosses, and anarchy reigns?

Davy Fitzgerald’s successful term as Clare manager came to an end this week Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Davy Fitzgerald’s successful term as Clare manager came to an end this week Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It can scarcely be classified as an epidemic, but when three managements are forced out by players in a year it's clear that the running of inter-county squads is entering a new phase.

Basically, all the power is now in the hands of the players to be wielded as they set fit. In theory, it was always so, but there's now a growing willingness to scapegoat managers.

Davy Fitzgerald's dignified departure as Clare hurling manager has prevented an ugly dispute. There will be no stand-off and no strike threats. His exit was quick and clean as he signed off after learning that opposition was gathering within the squad.

He had little choice. Precedent shows that once a squad - or even a minority within it - turns on a manager, he has no chance of surviving.

Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly departed quickly when Mayo footballers revolted this time last year, whereas Anthony Cunningham let it run for some weeks after Galway hurlers launched their heave.

Indeed, he would probably have won a vote if he had allowed it to go before the county board but instead decided to stand down.

It was the correct decision because if he had stayed on, a strike would have followed, leaving him struggling to field a team, with all the inevitable consequences.

As it happened, Galway's 'A' string was relegated, before being well beaten by Kilkenny in the Leinster final. They later gave much-improved performances against Clare and Tipperary but still failed to match last year's achievement in reaching the final.


Galway's only win against top-eight opposition in the championship was over Clare, a result which has had serious consequences for Fitzgerald.

Attempting to stay on against the wishes of a squad is pointless. Limerick county board took a tough line in a dispute between players and Justin McCarthy in 2010, backing the manager all the way, which led to the county being represented by a largely second-string team for the entire season. Unsurprisingly, they failed to win a game.

It was McCarthy's second clash with player power, having quit Waterford mid-championship in 2008, after a squad rebellion.

He had led them to their first Munster title for 39 years in 2002, won a second provincial title in 2004 and an Allianz League in 2007 (their first for 44 years), but it wasn't enough to save him when the players revolted a year later after a defeat by Clare in the Munster quarter-final.

Ironically, he was replaced by Fitzgerald in his first inter-county assignment. That lasted until 2011, after which Fitzgerald took over in his native Clare, a county that had been through managerial strife previously too.

Tony Considine was voted out at the end of 2007, replaced by Mike McNamara, who faced a player heave at the end of 2009.

He hung tough for a period but eventually resigned, noting that it was "hugely disappointing that some players failed to accept responsibility for their part in the results."

He was replaced by Ger 'Sparrow' O'Loughlin, who was in charge for two years, during which Clare won no championship games.

The reality is that players everywhere now hold all the power if any issue arises between them and management. That's nothing new, but it's wielded more regularly now.

It's 24 years since Mayo footballers revolted against Brian McDonald, forcing him out a few months after they won the Connacht title.

There have been other high-profile heaves too, led by Cork, whose footballers refused to accept Teddy Holland's appointment in 2007 and whose hurlers forced the resignation of Gerald McCarthy in 2009.

However, Fitzgerald is the first All-Ireland winning manager to be effectively forced out by players.

That it comes only four months after Clare won the Allianz League title for the first time in 38 years adds to the sense that a more brutal dynamic now applies in the relationship between GAA players and management. It's being encouraged by a relatively new phenomenon.

The influence of social media, especially Twitter, online comments and phone-ins means that managers and players can be subjected to fiercely personal attacks even before they leave a venue after a game.

There's no place for objective analysis in that world, where winners are always brilliant and losers are misguided fools. It's the ultimate in shallow nonsense, but can still exert an influence on public opinion.

In an age when former players/ managers have spotted that the best way to acquire a media profile - and the earning power that comes with it - is to unload harsh criticisms, the quality of analysis has veered sharply into nasty territory.

Full responsibility for Clare's failure to add to their All-Ireland haul since 2013 was dumped at Fitzgerald's door, amid claims that the riches from a so-called 'golden age' were being squandered.

Three successive All-Ireland U-21 titles from 2012-14 was certainly an impressive return, but since when did underage success guarantee senior success?

It certainly hasn't done much for Galway, who are still waiting for their first senior title since 1988, despite winning a string of minor and U-21 All-Ireland titles.

Fitzgerald's tactical approach was criticised over the last two years on the basis that it was no longer working as well as in 2013 when Clare won the All-Ireland.

Certainly, opponents counter-acted it well in recent seasons, as proven again this year by Waterford and Galway in this year's championship.

Still, the two goals that Clare conceded against Galway had nothing to do with tactics and were instead down to defensive mistakes for which the players have to take responsibility. But did they?

The degree to which their decision to challenge Fitzgerald's leadership was influenced by outside sources will never be known, but it's highly likely to have been a factor.

Few counties have as many high-profile pundits as Clare so Fitzgerald was under constant scrutiny from within.

By taking this stance, the players have heaped pressure on themselves for next year. Obviously, they are happy to do that, even if they know that the glint of Liam MacCarthy in Ennis next September is the only way to justify their actions.

On a broader scale, Fitzgerald's departure, coming so soon after the resignations of Cunningham and Holmes/Connelly, raises questions as to where the relationship between players and managers is headed.

Will one or two - or even more - player heaves per year become the norm? And if it does, what impact will it have on the quality of management?

Players are fully entitled to raise objections if they believe a wrong direction is being taken. No manager can ignore that. Nor should he, since ultimately the players have to believe in what they are doing.

However, the latest trend of pressing the ejection button, hurtling the manager out of the camp, is concerning.

It's an area that needs the attention of the GAA authorities and the GPA because nobody will gain from a further increase in player-manager breakdowns.

At this rate, how long can it be before squads demand the right to select their own managers? If that happens, anarchy will reign.

Irish Independent

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