Tuesday 17 September 2019

What sparks a revolt?

Why do players rebel against their managers and do they feel under even more pressure when they get their way? JACKIE CAHILL talks to hurlers from Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Tipp about their previous experiences

The Galway hurlers stand for the national anthem before this year’s All-Ireland final
The Galway hurlers stand for the national anthem before this year’s All-Ireland final
John Mullane, Waterford, is congratulated by his manager Justin McCarthy after the win against Tipperary

Justin McCarthy helped to give John Mullane the greatest day of his sporting life.

Iconic footage from Waterford's 2002 Munster senior hurling final victory over then All-Ireland champions Tipperary captured Mullane and his team-mates scaling the City End fencing at Páirc Uí Chaoimh to celebrate with jubilant supporters.

Waterford were provincial champions for the first time in 39 years and they won it twice more during the McCarthy era, while also earning the unwanted moniker as arguably 'the greatest team never to win the All-Ireland'.

They were holders of the Munster title on the first Sunday of June 2008 when Clare inflicted a hefty nine-point defeat at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.

Dan Shanahan refused to shake McCarthy's hand after being substituted and the fallout saw the manager vacate his position a week later. He was collateral damage as the majority of Waterford panelists, Mullane included, voted for change.

"We just felt we were running out of time," Mullane explains now.

"The age profile of the team was getting on, we had a bad championship defeat and we felt it was literally the last hurrah.

"Was Justin going to get us over the line or not? The view from an awful lot of the lads was that change was needed."

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An awful lot, but not all, as Mullane recalls. "The lads who did vote for Justin to stay, they did row in behind it. None of those lads threw the rattle out of the pram.

"We were united going forward, we drove it on but you could feel that pressure from outside and most certainly you could feel it from the media. An awful lot of people were waiting for us to fail that year."

Davy Fitzgerald took over in mid-season and managed to guide Waterford to an All-Ireland final. But they were obliterated by Kilkenny and Mullane admits: "Looking back, maybe an awful lot of people looked on that All-Ireland final and said to themselves, look, they got what they deserved."


The initial decision to agitate for McCarthy's removal caused Mullane sleepless nights.

He describes those days as "the hardest" of his Waterford career, "tossing and turning" at night and wondering if they'd done the right thing. He can empathise with the Galway hurlers in the wake of their successful heave against Anthony Cunningham.

But any heave comes with a caveat, as Mullane says: "It's going to be very hard for the Galway players over the next couple of months, under the spotlight next year, under severe pressure to come out and perform and justify getting rid of Anthony Cunningham.

"The knives will be out and an awful lot of people will be waiting for them to fail next year. That brings an awful lot of pressure, too.

"The way I described it was, it was like going out with a girl for six and a half years. The next thing, it starts going stale and you start to fall out of love."

It wasn't the first time such a fate would befall McCarthy but when it happened to him again, this time in Limerick, he wasn't for moving.

Instead, McCarthy fielded essentially a scratch team in 2010 after his decision to axe a number of leading players in the wake of a heavy All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Tipperary in 2009 and this led to others walking away in protest.

Gavin O'Mahony was one of them. "I didn't make up my mind until New Year's Eve. I held out and held out.

"It was a personal decision for me, myself and Andrew O'Shaughnessy (from the Kilmallock club) were pulling out and there were other younger lads going in.

"I never spoke to them about it, it was completely their own decision, and the same with me. I didn't even speak to Andrew about it.

"It was a tough decision for me, I was only after making the breakthrough and getting on the team the previous year.

"But I felt it was lose-lose. If we'd gone forward, the whole thing was falling down the swanny anyway.

"Looking back, it shook the whole thing up a bit for players, management and county board, woke them up to the fact that the game has to be raised here. What we were at wasn't good enough."

O'Mahony believes that more can be done to avoid a similar situation ever arising in Limerick again.

"There's still a big issue with county board and club delegates who feel that players should just keep their mouths shut and get on with it.

"But given the amount of time that players put into it and the enjoyment they're giving to a lot of people, there should be a couple of players sitting on committees that pick management teams."

It's been six years since McCarthy took the axe to his Limerick panel, a decision that opened up a huge can of worms on Shannonside.

And yet the scars have not fully healed, O'Mahony reveals.

"I don't regret it," he insists. "There are still people in Limerick that would throw it at you now and again. Even since then, you have to bury your head in the sand and get on with it, regardless of what's going on.

"We've just been lucky that the management set-ups have been good and we've ploughed on but Galway's scenario is tough. If they're to go and put a management in place, and it's not sufficient, they have to swallow it and get on with it. The whole process is flawed, there should be more player involvement."

In his autobiography, Standing My Ground, former Tipperary goalkeeper Brendan Cummins recounts a team meeting at Dundrum House Hotel following the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final torching by Kilkenny.

"There was a rambling discussion for a while that was going nowhere before I asked the question, 'If Michael is in charge, do we think that we'll win an All-Ireland?' The response from the room, including me, was no," Cummins wrote.

The 'Michael' in question was former team manager Michael Doyle, son of legend John and a two-goal hero from the famous 1987 Munster final replay victory in Killarney.


Cummins explains: "What happens is, players reflect on the season they've had, they'll do it individually first, a self-assessment that everybody that wants to achieve something goes through.

"Then they'll look at the support systems, was it a good set-up? Am I getting the most out of myself and them out of me? Next year, is it going to be the same fellas, the same drills, the same giving out to me again?

"All of this starts and then that player rings someone else and they ring someone else again. Before you know it, this thing is out of control and we need to meet up and have a chat. That's pretty much what happened with us."

Twelve years ago, that process was more difficult to organise. Now, not so much.

"Now, every team has a 'WhatsApp' group," Cummins says.

"So if the conversation drifts to 'are we happy with management' and 'do we need to work it out', bang, a message is sent and 30 players get it in the blink of an eye. The meeting is arranged and then you're in a room having this conversation. Then it's 'oh shit, is this where WhatsApp has led me to?"

In Cork, Pat Mulcahy found himself at the centre of the first player strike on Leeside, before watching from the outside in when history repeated itself in late 2007 and into the early months of 2008.

"A player is selfish, he doesn't really care how they go about it as long as they win matches," Mulcahy says.

"From a player's perspective, I don't think it's ever personal (with a manager) but they just want a bloody good set-up, whoever you are.

"From a coaching perspective, if I felt at any point in time that I wasn't required, I would be gone and I'd say to myself, I have far better things to do with my time than hanging around with a bunch of players who don't appreciate what you're giving.

"I was involved with Cork in 2002 and 2003 when there was a bit of hassle. It's a very hard thing to do as a player, you're in the limelight and to do it takes a huge amount of courage, resilience and organisation. You can be isolated if everybody doesn't go with you."

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