Sunday 25 August 2019

Martin Breheny: 'Departure of Waterford manager the most curious in summer of huge changes'

Player power may have been a factor but some departures are baffling

Managerial merry-go-round: Former Waterford boss Páraic Fanning cut a dejected figure against Limerick in Walsh Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Managerial merry-go-round: Former Waterford boss Páraic Fanning cut a dejected figure against Limerick in Walsh Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

John Meyler said nothing, Páraic Fanning thanked all around him before signing off with a comment which was open to various interpretations and Joe Quaid wondered why he wasn't wanted anymore.

There have been several other managerial departures too in recent weeks, with probably more to come. In football, Malachy O'Rourke (Monaghan), Cian O'Neill (Kildare), Rory Gallagher (Fermanagh), John Sugrue (Laois), Liam Kearns (Tipperary), Damien McErlain (Derry), John Evans (Wicklow) and Paul McLoughlin (Wexford) have all gone.

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Wexford moved quickly, appointing Paul Galvin as McLoughlin's successor. Meyler, Fanning and Quaid are the highest profile hurling departures, the latter two having completed only one year each.

Some of the departures are readily explained, while others are not. After seven years and some notable successes with Monaghan, O'Rourke felt it was time to go. So too with Kearns, who completed four years in Tipperary, where the high point was reaching the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final. Both will be in demand elsewhere.

Cian O'Neill's exit from Kildare after four years was no surprise as they had stagnated. Fermanagh were still punching above their weight under Rory Gallagher, but after two years he probably felt he could take them no further.

Damien McErlain had another season of his three-year term to run in Derry, but opted out anyway. You wonder if he ever regretted taking the job while he was still minor manager in 2017.

John Meyler (pictured) and Malachy O’Rourke also departed inter-county management this summer. Photo: Sportsfile
John Meyler (pictured) and Malachy O’Rourke also departed inter-county management this summer. Photo: Sportsfile

A win over Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final prompted the board to promote him immediately, handing McErlain the senior job a few weeks before the minors lost the final to Kerry by 24 points. It certainly wasn't the ideal send-off to senior duty.

The biggest surprise on football's departure list so far is John Sugrue after two years in Laois.

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He led them from Division 4 to Division 2 in successive seasons and while they suffered heavy defeats against Meath and Cork in the championship, they beat Westmeath, Derry and Offaly.

With a Division 2 campaign to come next spring, Laois look like a decent work-in-progress, so Sugrue's departure is a setback.

In hurling, Westmeath opted against giving Quaid a second year, which surprised him after a season where they were promoted to Division 1 and reached the Joe McDonagh Cup final.

Westmeath announced tersely that "we will not be renewing our association with Joe Quaid".

He said that he had been given no specific reason for his removal, other than a mention of "cultural differences". All very curious.

Not as curious, mind you, as Fanning's exit in Waterford, also after one season. It started well when they reached the Allianz League final, losing to Limerick, but four successive defeats in the Munster round robin, the final three by a combined margin of 57 points, got tongues wagging.

How many of them belonged to the squad is a moot point, but it must be said that their performances against Tipperary and Limerick were beyond abject.

Indeed, they looked very much like a group who had downed tools against Limerick in Walsh Park. By mid-June, Waterford had gone nine successive championship games without a win, stretching back to the 2017 All-Ireland final. Unlike 2008 and 2013, when Waterford players revolted openly - and successfully - against Justin McCarthy and Michael Ryan respectively, there was no public mutiny this time.

But was it on the way? If it were, Fanning would have had to go anyway, since player power always wins those battles nowadays.

"I hope the board can find a suitable successor, who can implement the changes that are necessary to ensure that Waterford are successful for many years to come," he said in his resignation statement.

What on earth could he mean? What changes? It's unfortunate that, for whatever reason, he felt he couldn't continue. If the players were agitating they will no doubt see it as a victory when, perhaps, they should be checking mirrors to find out why things went so wrong.

On Leeside, those who are happy to see Meyler gone might reflect on this: Cork were eliminated from last year's championship by the eventual All-Ireland winners, while a team who may be champions by Sunday week saw them off this year.

Not winning the All-Ireland doesn't automatically equate to bad management.

Grim week for Wexford adds to Leinster woe

From the high of being in three All-Ireland semi-finals to the low of reaching no final – and all in six days.

After so much excitement this summer, it was a week to forget for Wexford hurling, starting with the seniors who lost to Tipperary and the minors who were well beaten by Galway.

That was followed last Saturday by the U-20s’ heavy defeat by Tipperary, for whom Jake Morris, who will be challenging for a starting spot in the senior final, top-scored on 1-5.   

Still, Wexford won the Leinster senior and minor titles, so they have a solid base to work off. Kilkenny’s U-20s were beaten by Cork in the other semi-final, ensuring that the All-Ireland title (U-20 and U-21) heads to Munster for an eighth successive year.

It hasn’t gone to Leinster since Kilkenny won in 2008. Leinster have struggled at minor level too, winning only one (Kilkenny 2014) of the last eight titles.

The Cats are in this year’s final, where they will be trying to stop Galway becoming the first county to complete a minor treble since Cork in 1969-’71.

Scrap minor and U-20 for U-19?

CYRIL Farrell’s comments in his column in the Irish Independent last Saturday that lowering the minor age limit to 17 years was a mistake echoes what many others are also thinking.

He argued that subjecting 16- and 17-year-olds to the demands of high-profile provincial and All-Ireland games is unwise and could stunt, rather than promote, their development.

With due respect to county boards and minor managements everywhere, it’s all about winning, so the pressure is on from the start.

The age limit was reduced to avoid a clash with Leaving Cert year which, at face value, looked sensible. However, is it appropriate to load up the demands of county training on even younger players? There’s an increasing view that it’s time revisit it, perhaps even increasing the minor age to U-19 and scrapping U-20, which replaced U-21.

Of course there can still be competitions for U-17s, but not at the intense level which currently exists.

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