Sunday 19 November 2017

Ireland's gaffers manage to make enthralling tale

Trevor Keane's book on Irish managers never strikes a false note, says Willie O'Dea

Older football fans have a hazy recollection of somebody called Johnny Carey who supposedly managed the Irish international football team back in those dim and distant days when Cuchulainn was busily founding the GAA.

As far as the younger generation is concerned however, Irish international football management began with Jack Charlton. A surprising amount even think it finished with him also. In fact Jack Charlton was Ireland's tenth manager. There have been five since, including Giovanni Trapattoni.

Ever hear of a man called Mick Meagan? No. Or Seán Thomas? No. You may be surprised to learn that they both managed Ireland.

After a glittering management career, firstly with Shamrock Rovers and later with Bohemians, Mick Meagan was appointed manager of the Irish team in September 1969. His reign lasted barely two years. During that period Ireland played 12 matches of which they won not a single one. In fact, they lost nine of them.

Yet Mick Meagan was the first manager of an Ireland international side who had the power to select the players. It took many years but Ireland eventually reaped the rewards of the decision to appoint Meagan in 1969.

Seán Thomas's international management career was even shorter; he was in charge of Ireland for only one game, away to Norway on June 6, 1973, which finished in a 1-1 draw. His period in charge was a brief interlude between the tenures of Liam Tuohy and Johnny Giles.

Johnny Carey was Ireland's first manager from November 1955 to February 1967 but it wasn't until 1969 that its resemblance to a constitutional monarch was changed. The manager had the title, but no real power. A panel of selectors chose the team and the role of manager was largely confined to giving an 'inspiring' pre-match speech to the players, with the possibility of a few follow-up words at half-time.

All these nuggets of football history and many, many more are contained in Gaffers, a new book which chronicles 50 years of Irish football managers written by Limerickman, Trevor Keane.

For anybody interested in the beautiful game, it is an enthralling read. The writing style is attractively vivid and pacy. It is replete with anecdotes, about the dispositions, practices, foibles and eccentricities of the various managers, which range from the astonishing to the hilarious.

Yet through it all the carefully crafted prose never strikes a false note. If Trapattoni's team can reproduce the magic of the Charlton era, then football will come to increasingly dominate everyday conversation. If that happens those who have not read this book will be at a distinct disadvantage.

A percentage of the royalties of the sale of this book are committed to the Diabetes Federation of Ireland. In view of the sheer volume of people afflicted by this unfortunate condition, I do not need to emphasise how worthy that cause is. This alone represents a good reason to buy this book. But those who buy it will discover there are many, many more.

Gaffers: 50 Years of Irish Football Managers by Trevor Keane (Published by Mercier Press, €15.29)

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