Sunday 19 November 2017

Ricey and his ladies a perfect marriage

Ex-Tyrone star Ryan McMenamin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Ex-Tyrone star Ryan McMenamin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Declan Bogue

If Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher should need an example of what his new selector Ryan McMenamin brings to a team environment, he would have found it in Kilkeel last Saturday.

After a coaching clinic hosted by Carlow's Steve Poacher at his St Columban's School, over 150 coaches were invited into the assembly hall for a questions and answers session.

Kilcoo manager Paul McIver was there and in answering a question about how the remit of managing a Gaelic football team has expanded to taking on the personal problems of his players, he recounted how lucky he was to manage at Dromore, where Ryan McMenamin looked after all issues in-house.

Break-ups with girlfriends, difficult times at work, all that 'time-vampire' stuff was taken care of by 'Ricey', who never missed any Dromore training session that wasn't the same night as a Tyrone one. He's still playing away.

Encouragement

It's the first thing that Gallagher asked him after Dromore were knocked out of the Tyrone Championship by Clonoe, and he offered encouragement for him to continue in 2018.

Combining it with his Fermanagh commitments will be a test, but McMenamin is proving himself a miracle worker with time management as he manages Tyrone side St Macartan's in tomorrow's Ulster Ladies Football final against Donaghmoyne of Monaghan, who are in an incredible 15th consecutive Ulster decider.

It's a repeat of last year's final, which they lost 2-12 to 1-6. This is McMenamin's third year in charge, most likely the last.

"They couldn't get anyone to manage them," he says of his unlikely posting over the club from the Clogher Valley. "I told them I would go in and start them off, get them going until they got a manager. Three years later, I am still here!"

The link comes through his wife Maura, an Ulster Council employee, who has played in an All-Ireland final for Tyrone back in 2010 and who's still going strong with the 'Macs'.

Asked if it is a good way of spending time together, he quips in that style of his; "In some ways, but hey… If the result doesn't go well…

"You are sharing a common interest. It does help but at the same time, it is hard to draw the line sometimes. You have to be careful!"

Does she share his need to win though? "Maura is no different, same as any other footballer," he begins. "When you came into the Macartan's club, there is a great culture of the girls wanting to do better and they are always pushing themselves. We have brought in new things to what they have been doing over the last number of years. But the girls never complain.

"They have a great will to win, but I think that is down to the culture in the club."

Sometimes it feels like there is no escaping football. In his day job; he is the point of contact for farmers appealing failed inspections of their flock of lambs. The area he covers is Fermanagh and Tyrone. There's a lot of football kicked around those fields and byres.

He wouldn't have it any other way though. The 39-year-old has been coaching teams in his club since he was 21 and the ladies' game is a learning experience for him. Sometimes, it feels as if there are no differences. But there are some subtle and yet crucial ones all the same.

"You have different things like you could tell a fella to run ten times up and down the field. With girls, they wouldn't be afraid to question you, so you always need to be on your toes. Which is not a bad thing."

There is a sophistication that has bled into the ladies' code. The 46,286 attendance at the All-Ireland finals was the clearest signal yet that the appeal and the product is reaching critical mass.

That filters down into aspects of tactics and preparations.

Against Errigal Ciarán in the Tyrone Championship, the 'Macs' had to figure their way around their opponents' defensive shell.

In Ulster, Donegal's Glenfin played two sweepers against them. Armagh champions Clann éireann dropped numbers back and sprung from deep, just like the Tyrone seniors' counter-attacking game. Tactically, there is a lot to get your teeth into.

Top-quality

"About 10/15 years ago, if you took a ladies' team, it was because nobody else wanted the job. Or nobody could do it, or you couldn't get a job with a men's team," McMenamin points out.

"I think that is changing. You only have to watch the All-Ireland final between Mayo and Dublin there, with Mick Bohan taking Dublin. He has been in with Dublin men, in with St Vincent's and he is a top, top-quality coach.

"That only helps, the more top-quality players and coaches."

For now, he has a final to win, against the greatest club that the game in Ulster has ever seen in Donaghmoyne.

"We played last year and we might have felt we did alright against them but we were beat by nine points and that's the story," he recalls.

"They are a fantastic side. They might have lost a few players but they got a couple of new players in and Louise Kerley scored 1-11 in the last game.

"They are not like any other club where you lose a couple of players and it would affect you. They have a big panel and they are able to bring players off the bench just as good."

But that never put him off a task before…

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