Enda McGinley: Mickey Harte and Malachy O'Rourke are men of action

Monaghan boss Malachy O'Rourke 

A WISE man once advised there is no point taking life too seriously as no-one gets out alive anyway. It was a philosophy that sprung to mind following Arsene Wenger’s announcement that he would be stepping down as Arsenal manager at the end of the season. Reading between the lines since, it has become obvious that this was a case of jumping before being pushed.

For a man that had experienced such heady heights and was worshipped as a revolutionary figure both within the Arsenal club and the English Premier League, it was an ending that for a long time would’ve seemed unthinkable. Or was it?

For any manager of sports teams, there appears to be an inevitability that, when the end comes, it is seldom on the terms one would desire.

Here at home, many famous managers have ended up being shown the door or, at the very least, gently walked towards it rather than retiring at the top. From the most successful of them all – Mick O’Dwyer (inset) and his famous Kerry reign which ended with a collective ‘it’s best to move on approach’ in 1989 – through to Paidi O Sé, John O’Mahony, Pete McGrath, Eamon Coleman and Sean Boylan.

The list of exceptional GAA managers suffered exits which arrived in various ways but always painfully.

In the fullness of time, at least their huge contributions gain the credit and respect that even a degree of perspective suggests they deserve.

The longevity of some of these managers’ reigns was, of course, bolstered by the pinnacles of success that they had elevated their respective teams too.

The irony was that in pushing the bar to new heights they then created the bar which supporters within their counties expected them to eventually reach.

There are of course the ones who jump while still at the top, most recently witnessed in Jim McGuinness’s departure from Donegal.

This likely occurred as the man himself probably always felt he wanted to take on different challenges.

Most, however, tend to stay on and rage against the dying of the light that appears to envelop all eventually.

The reasons for this are probably quite obvious. To reach the level of inter-county management, particularly with teams at the top of the game, demands a certain type of personality.

These people tend to have a rare combination of brilliance and determination, along with a serious competitive spirit.

The competitive spirit is often lightly carried, as with Ulster’s two long-serving bainisteoirs, Mickey Harte and Malachy O’Rourke.

Having been in dressing rooms under the helm of both managers in big Championship games, I have been left in no doubt about the competitive zeal which burns in both men.

For these men, when great success is achieved, there is no sense of completion.

Stepping away with a job well done isn’t considered. Instead they will immediately seek out the further challenge of achieving more success or backing up their current success.

For Harte, there is the drive to win an All-Ireland with a brand new team. For O’Rourke, it will be to break into the All-Ireland

semi-final or final stage and give the title a proper shot.

The other issue is, if they did step away, who do they manage then? Other county teams won’t share the same appeal having soldiered for so long in one particular trench.

Stepping down to club level would be a struggle when you are used to the preparation level that

inter-county brings.

Simply put, where else can such driven individuals go to fulfil this aspect of their life?

The challenge then for them isn’t so much about having the hunger or determination in themselves to stay, but whether they can motivate the troops. This is the greatest challenge for any

long-serving manager.

In the club game, the classic three-year management cycle demonstrates the difficulty in keeping things fresh.

Year one brings the bounce of a new manager, with all the fresh ideas, new training and clean slates. Players respond to this. How many times have we seen very good managers who do huge amount of development work with, but ultimately miss out on success be replaced by someone who, in year one, achieves success?

Such success is, of course, not one year’s work, but the result of several years of graft. However, the new man and ideas and the ‘bounce’ that comes with it act as the ultimate catalyst.

Year two sees a consolidation or tweaking of year one, but by year three the freshness tends to have gone, rumblings among the players increase with consequent downturns in motivation and performances.

Many clubs don’t even manage the three years and go through these three stages in the one year.

The big thing here is that this is often a reflection on the players rather than the manager. For me, any team worth its salt must be prepared to take responsibility for the fact that 90 per cent of what goes on inside the white lines is completely down to their own application.

The modern tendency of players and supporters blaming management, systems or tactical changes etc. when things aren’t going well betrays a lack of leadership from the players themselves.

Part of this culture is due to the increased tactical analysis of our games which has led to the importance of tactics in ultimate success being completely


Crucially, though, the fact that the vast majority of managers are paid means they inevitably become the first to be blamed when things go wrong which adds into the cycle of players being able to avoid taking responsibility.

All of this makes one wonder how the likes of O’Rourke and Harte (a) keep it going and (b) hope for it to end well.

Knowing both men, they would never be bothered with thinking of the end.

They only care of the here and now and striving for success. Their success hasn’t happened by accident.

They are men of action. Successful people keep moving, they make mistakes, but they don’t quit.

In continually looking for ways to change, both will have altered their approaches.

Both being teachers, they will have inevitably instilled a theme of continuous learning, development and improvement in their players.

They never approach their management role like a job to be completed. For anyone and, particularly for players, the process of improvement should be never-ending.

Creating this environment both within themselves and their teams is key to their longevity.

Some day the end will come. No matter how it ends, such men, like their illustrious predecessors, will have made a remarkable impact on the fabric of our games. Ironically, even when forced out like Wenger, the biggest issue posed with changing long-serving or successful managers is filling the huge shoes they leave behind.

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