Hold The Back Page
Who’d be a manager? Brian Cody, Stephen Kenny, Vera Pauw and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer are all coming under increasing pressure at the moment. But the killer for them is that some of this pressure results from circumstances beyond their control.
A rocky year may lie ahead for someone old, someone new, someone borrowed and someone red.
The old is Brian Cody, whose reappointment as Kilkenny manager seems an automatic annual ritual. Yet Kilkenny’s apparent sang-froid belies a year in which the Cats slipped further off the pace at the top.
Another provincial title means little when the championship has become so lopsided that the five best teams in this year’s competition all came from Munster. Despite benefiting from a draw which placed Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford and Galway in the other half, Kilkenny still couldn’t make the final.
Instead they lost to a Cork side whose final performance suggests they’re hardly the second best team in the country. The Rebels were still good enough, as Waterford were last year, to expose the weakness of a Kilkenny side whose favouritism was based on reputation rather than achievement.
Even Cody’s supporters can hardly miss the parallels between him and Mickey Harte, whose dismissal by Tyrone last year turned out to be a masterstroke. The arguments used in favour of sticking with Cody, that past victories entitle him to loyalty, that he’ll turn things around eventually, that he can’t be blamed for the inadequacies of the players, are the same used by those who argued against Tyrone jettisoning their veteran manager.
Yet Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan have shown that sometimes a team simply benefits from a fresh outlook and the extra energy that comes with it. The likes of Kieran McGeary, Conor Meyler, Darren McCurry and Conn Kilpatrick produced performances this year few suspected they were capable of.
Tyrone’s success proved Harte hung on too long. Kilkenny’s willingness to fall into the same trap is odd, with managers of proven ability like Eddie Brennan and Henry Shefflin waiting in the wings. The football final should give some within the county food for thought.
The new is Stephen Kenny, speculation about whose future has been unexpectedly increased by the sacking of Chris Hughton after Nottingham Forest took one point from their first seven games in the Championship.
Hughton seemed like he’d make a terrific Ireland manager during a decade when he steered Newcastle United and Norwich City into the Premier League and enabled both City and Brighton to comfortably survive in the top flight.
But such speculation seemed like fantasy given the former Spurs star’s standing in the club game. Yet the fact that he’s now available does seem to counter two of the most popular arguments by Kenny partisans.
The first, the Tony Pulis theory, suggests that sacking the current manager would inevitably bring a return to the most antediluvian form of route one football. The second, the Robbie Keane theory, holds that Kenny would be replaced by some unqualified candidate whose main attribute would be his availability.
Hughton, whose career has been distinguished by his commitment to attractive attacking football and who has a proven track record as a manager at the top level, shows that there is an alternative.
The FAI probably owe Stephen Kenny a shot at the European Championship qualifying campaign. But Chris Hughton as Irish manager would be an exciting prospect.
Vera Pauw, who counts as borrowed because she comes from another country (just go with it, OK?) seems just as embattled as Kenny. After seven successive defeats, Ireland face a tough task against Olympic semi-finalists Australia at Tallaght on Tuesday.
Further pressure may be piled on the manager by a draw which has handed Ireland games against its most powerful opponents to start the World Cup qualifying group. Next month’s matches against Sweden and Finland constitute the toughest start possible.
The initial spin on Ireland’s failure to qualify for those European finals was that it was a gallant effort which represented progress. But this became impossible to maintain when Northern Ireland, with a team largely made up of domestic league players, not only qualified but did so by beating the Ukraine team which had knocked us out.
There’s also been a mass clear-out of Irish internationals from the Women’s Super League with Rianna Jarrett, Megan Campbell, Leanne Kiernan, Courtney Brosnan and Ruesha Littlejohn all getting released and dropping down a division in the past year.
Pauw has had to cope too with the controversy over the omission of Tyler Toland from the panel. It all leaves her in just as much need of a morale boosting win as her male counterpart.
The red component of the equation is probably the one in least need of sympathy. Yet Manchester United’s loss to Young Boys on Tuesday was made look even worse by Manchester City’s exhilarating performance against Leipzig and Liverpool’s typically stirring victory against AC Milan 24 hours later.
United’s display illustrated again the team’s inability to find the consistency necessary to win something and once more raised question marks over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s ability.
This looks like a defining season for the Norwegian as even his most fervent defenders can’t claim he doesn’t have the players. Although the determination to keep painting Solskjaer as cruelly hampered by the Glazers, may account for the bizarre articles claiming United would be better off without Cristiano Ronaldo.
In reality, Ronaldo will improve United and score a lot of goals in the process.
Yet Solskjaer like Cody, Kenny and Pauw will have felt the pressure increase a little bit over the past week. For all four the year contains both peril and promise. This time next year the entire quartet could be out of work. Or they could be basking in the glare of ‘answers the critics’ style headlines.
But whatever about outside pressures, in the long-term their fate will depend on what they do themselves. Keep getting it wrong and old, new, borrowed and red will soon be singing the blues.
Dublin and Kerry meet in college football clash with Irish punters backed to shine
The phrase ‘Irish Punters’ may conjure up a picture of lads throwing money over the counter in a betting shop but it will have a different ring when Georgia Tech host North Carolina in college football next Saturday night.
Punting for the home team is Kerry’s David Shanahan with Dublin’s Ben Kiernan filling the same role for UNC. They’ve got there by different routes.
Kiernan’s background is in rugby. He was a front row forward at Blackrock College before moving with his parents to the States at the age of 15. There he took up punting with such success that he was a top ranked High School prospect before being recruited by North Carolina where he’s currently in his third season.
Shanahan was a Gaelic footballer with Castleisland Desmonds who played under 17 for Kerry. A huge fan of college football, he sent a video of himself kicking to an agency with a record of turning Australian rules players into college punters.
Last week he made his debut for Georgia Tech – his first ever competitive American football match. Shanahan was singled out for praise by coach Geoff Collins for averaging a huge 52.7 yards per punt against Northern Illinois.
Dempsey’s style contributed much to fiercely contested final
Last Sunday’s All-Ireland camogie final seemed very significant for two reasons. One was that by storming to a win with a great late comeback, Galway confirmed their arrival as a major power in the sport.
This was a second win in three years for the team inspired by the brilliant McGrath sisters, Orlaith and Siobhán, in the full-forward line whereas on previous occasions the Tribeswomen have proved unable to build on All-Ireland victories.
Even more striking than the result was the viscerally exciting nature of a decider which reached rare heights of physical intensity and commitment. Three years ago after a deadly dull final between Cork and Kilkenny riddled with frees, even some of the winning players complained about the game’s zero tolerance attitude towards physical challenges.
The camogie authorities listened and the game has been all the better for it. And if the new approach was seen to its best advantage yet in Sunday’s match, that had a lot to do with Kilkenny referee Liz Dempsey whose ability to let the game flow while also clamping down when necessary was exemplary.
Referees tend only to attract notice when they get things wrong but the Thomastown official’s outstanding performance in a frantic and fiercely contested final deserves mention.