Bredan Crossan: Gerard Lytltle undeserving of harsh criticism
DURING his days with Kilcoo, Jim McCorry was a master of creating a siege mentality. Real or imagined, the Armagh native was brilliant at creating an ‘us-against-the-world’ scenario.
You had to love McCorry for it. Even the Kilcoo haters - and, indeed, there were many - had a grudging respect for the way in which the Magpies dominated the Down Senior Football Championship in recent years. He created a similar mentality during his all-too-brief time in charge of Down.
It’s no coincidence the Mourne men have dropped like a stone since his departure in 2015. After being out-played and losing to Roscommon in their opening NFL game of the season, a few weeks later McCorry’s Down team travelled to Kingpsan Breffni Park to face a fancied Cavan side.
It was a wet and miserable Saturday night. Even the floodlights seemed to lack their usual shine. It wasn’t a pretty game to watch, but Down out-fought their hosts and claimed a well-deserved victory. At pitch-side, reporters waited to speak to someone from the Down camp.
It seemed to take an age before the Down players and management team broke from their circle. From a discreet distance, we could see McCorry holding court in the middle of the huddle. This was part of the indoctrination process the veteran manager had fine-tuned over many years.
Kevin McKernan, one of McCorry’s foot soldiers, stopped to talk to The Irish News. Right then, we got an insight into how McCorry turned a negative into a positive. Since being well beaten by Roscommon, the Down players were criticised and ridiculed on social media sites.
The Down players answered their critics in emphatic fashion. Always measured in his dealings with the media, McKernan said: “I’m just glad the boys got over the line because we’ve taken a lot of flak from people around our own county, never mind from the media.
“This group of boys are working hard and we’ve a great management structure in place. All we want is a wee bit of backing around the county and, I tell you what, you could be surprised. There are boys in their first year on the panel and they’re taking a lot of flak on social media. I would just like for those people who are putting those messages up to put their name to it. These guys are slogging it out…”
For better or worse, social media is part of modern life. Everyone has a platform. Doesn’t matter about your credentials. Everybody gets a vote. You could start a campaign any day of the week on Facebook or Twitter. It’s like moths and firelight. The more dramatic the campaign, the more interest it generates.
You soon learn Twitter is nothing without drama. So be dramatic. Be controversial. But whatever you do, don’t praise and don’t be measured. Measured is a bad word. It’s not cool. Just have a go. As often as possible. It makes you relevant. It’s important to be relevant.
Get your tweets favourited or re-tweeted, get debate started and, before you know it, you may have the genesis of a bandwagon on your hands. And if the board members of a football club are weak and giddy enough, you can actually be the engine for change.
Irish League club Cliftonville have suffered back-to-back losses this month. They lost 3-2 to Glenavon and 2-1 at home to Dungannon Swifts last weekend. Dissent is growing in social media circles that the club’s manager Gerard Lyttle isn’t up to the job. These social media discussions are ridiculous as they are short sighted. This is August. Yes, August. The season is only a couple of weeks old. The kids aren’t even back to school yet.
Apparently, the team is doomed. You’ll find there’s a quite lot of doom on Twitter and Facebook. Those fans who have been demoralised by two bad results and insist the season is now irretrievable don't add to any rational discussion about where the north Belfast club is currently at.
Last season, Lyttle stepped into the breach after Tommy Breslin, the club’s most successful manager, walked away. Under Lyttle’s guidance, the Reds went on an 11-match unbeaten run, retained the League Cup, finished fourth with four points more than the previous season’s tally and qualified for Europe after an incredibly tense end-of-season play-off against Glentoran.
Lyttle has managed to achieve these things while, at the same time, trying to dig the foundations for a brand new team. His work should be applauded, not derided. In these post-Joe Gormley and Liam Boyce times, the Cliftonville manager has had to reconfigure the team’s attack, replenish central-midfield, rebuild his central-defence and find a new goalkeeper at short notice.
As luck would have it, suspension and injury ruled new defenders Chris Ramsey and Jason McGuinness out of last Saturday’s home defeat to Dungannon Swifts. George McMullan and Barry Johnston - two pillars of the changing room in recent seasons - have gone. Anyone who has the remotest sense of what it’s like to face such managerial challenges will know pillars aren’t easily replaced.
And all the while, the former Reds midfielder has set about professionalising the entire set-up. Players have been introduced to GPS systems and given statistical breakdowns, video analysis takes place on a match-to-match basis, there is dietary and lifestyle guidance, an extra night’s training has been introduced this season and the changing rooms have had a facelift. On every wall, players are reminded of the ingredients of what makes a great team.
A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting to Lyttle at a charity football event. He gave me a brief rundown of his working week at the club. He arrives at training at 5.15pm, three days per week, for a session that begins at 6.30pm. He leaves at 9.30pm, roughly 90 minutes after the session has ended. He attends the club’s U20 games.
You will see him at Friday night fixtures to run the rule over Cliftonville’s opponents. Every Sunday, he hooks up with the team’s video analyst at Solitude to watch the previous day’s game before planning the week ahead. He says it can be a demanding role, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He loves the club.
Club chairman Gerard Lawlor and many of his colleagues have long memories too. They remember what a real struggle looks and feels like. And it's not back-to-back defeats in August. But if you didn't know any better and you read some of the social media posts, you would think the club is staring into the abyss.
It's all nonsense of course. But that’s how modern life rolls. People feel entitled. Nobody is above criticism and there are some quarters it comes from that it's worth listening to. Lyttle has spent a lifetime in football to know that much. But the negative vibes are hard to fathom and lack the merest hint of perspective.
Of course, Jim McCorry would love these work conditions. No better man for squeezing the goodness out of every negative that came his way. Maybe he's worth a call...