GAA Football

'Why I had to go' - Down boss Jim McCorry

Jim McCorry believed he was making good progress with the Down senior squad 

JIM McCORRY has insisted his position as Down senior football manager was made “untenable” following a crunch meeting with the county management committee on Monday.

McCorry, who quit the job on Thursday after just one season in charge, rejected the Down County Board’s statement that they were “100 per cent” behind him.

McCorry was far from convinced after Monday night’s meeting with the Mourne County’s top brass and felt he had “no choice” but to step down from the post.

Last month, the county’s management committee sensationally recommended to county delegates to get rid of McCorry – but the clubs voted to retain their manager [22-20].

Speaking to The Irish News on Friday morning, McCorry claimed the way he was treated was more in keeping with the cut-throat culture of the English Premier League.

“I was left with no choice other than to leave the post,” said McCorry. “The position had become untenable. At Monday’s meeting, the county committee told me they were backing me “100 per cent”.

“The people who were backing me “100 per cent” were the same people who didn’t see fit to back me four weeks earlier.

“When I asked for the reasons why, I was told people had the right to vote the way they wanted. That really stuck in my craw.”

Immediately after last month’s narrow vote to keep him, McCorry felt his position was untenable, but after a period of reflection and with a certain degree of optimism entering last Monday’s meeting, the Armagh native thought he could continue as Down manager and that the situation “might be salvageable”.

McCorry had drawn up a two-year plan ahead of the crunch meeting in which the objective was to remain in Division One and win an Ulster title within that time-frame.

However, McCorry remained unconvinced about his future as Down boss upon leaving Monday’s meeting.

“I still thought it was salvageable if it was going to be the right discussion and the right rational look at how we improve the county set-up at senior level to challenge for honours, with a proper strategy in place going forward.

"From that perspective, I thought it would have been salvageable, yes.”

McCorry added: “I went into Monday’s meeting in a positive mind, hoping I was going to hear things other than the platitudes of: ‘We’re behind you 100 per cent and let’s move on’.

“That wasn’t giving me any confidence to be able to deliver the two-year plan without them putting hurdles in my way.

“It’s okay saying to someone: ‘We’re 100 per cent behind you’, but you really have to convince someone of that.

“I would have thought it straightforward for anybody to understand that the manager in my position would have needed a lot of convincing and a lot of support after what happened.

“For them to say: ‘People had the right to vote – let’s move on’. That’s not the type of conversation that filled me with confidence. The trust and respect wasn’t there.”

“They had issues with the captaincy, issues with the management team and the fact I hadn’t brought in a third selector, even though it was made clear to them that a third selector would be added this year to freshen things up.

“When I weighed it up in the round and when I was told by a very trusted person in Down who said: ‘They’re just waiting for you to trip up, Jim, and it’ll all start again,' I thought: 'Why should I go through that for it to start up all over again.'”

He continued: “What annoyed me was that there was no discussion with county management about how we’d got up to Division One, how we lost the Division Two final with a man down, how we lost away to Derry [in the Ulster Championship] with a man down. There was no talk about any of that. It was just about the Wexford defeat and not having, in their view, the best players available for that game.”

Curiously, the manager had to deal with questions from the management committee over who he picked and didn’t pick on his panel and why some high-profile players who had decided to step down weren’t persuaded to return.

“When I asked who were the best players in the county, the only reference was the players who had retired previously or weren’t available.

“There was no mention of the fact that I had asked those players to stay on; I didn’t push anybody out, I wanted them to be in the squad.

“They had made the choice not to be there… There were things asked in that meeting that were matters for the manager. The manager picks the panel. That’s why you pick a manager for.

“I had the best players available who wanted to commit to Down. Maybe some people thought I should beg some players to come back to play for Down. But that’s not really the way I see county football.

“I don’t think modern-day county footballers should be begged to come back when they’ve decided they want to retire. And those players who didn’t wish to play all had valid reasons.”

For a variety of reasons, Dan Gordon, Benny Coulter, Kalum King, Dan McCartan and Ambrose Rogers stepped aside while illness prevented Marty Clarke from making a return to county colours.

McCorry, however, confirmed Gordon and Clarke had “already indicated they wanted to come back, and they were part of the playing panel for next year”.

McCorry was named James McCartan's successor last September. Faced with a daunting rebuilding job, he guided the Mournemen back to Division One before a controversial refereeing decision – the sending-off of Conall McGovern in the 37th minute - contributed to their downfall against Derry in the Ulster Championship.

In their All-Ireland Qualifier defeat to lowly Wexford, there were no redeeming features in the Down performance.

McCorry was also castigated for his post-match interview with The Sunday Game where he said Division One was the team’s “priority”.

The Down manager was disappointed with the way in which the interview was edited and how it was used by his detractors as a stick to beat him with.

Given his incredible success with Eoghan Rua, Kilcoo, where he won four club championships, McCorry was the stand-out candidate to succeed the outgoing James McCartan.

With the senior squad in dire need of fresh faces and with very little coming through the U21 ranks, it was a major surprise to see Down gain promotion to the top flight.

“The appointment committee knew exactly what I was going to do: there would be a new panel of players, a new way of playing, players would leave and we could expect an outcry with that.

“But I told the committee we would have to ride that out. They appointed me on that basis and now they ended up lambasting me for it. The problem with Down is that they look back at the past all the time.”

Despite the bitter ending and truncated time in charge, McCorry doesn’t regret taking the Down post.

“I loved the job the short time I was there,” he said.

“I’d love to have done the three years. I really know the players now. I met some fantastic people and had some really great experiences. I’m not leaving with a bitter taste in my mouth regarding the players.

"We’d great supporters at our games as well. And I wouldn’t be worried about the keyboard warriors, I’d be concerned with the genuine supporters. A lot of people wanted me to stay on but I wasn’t able to.

“Next year, some of those players will be working with their third manager in 12 months. That sounds like something you’d hear in the English Premier League. That’s down to the county management committee, not me.”

“Don’t get me wrong, not every player is going to be satisfied because you can only play 15. Players were taken off, players were more disgruntled than others. That’s the way management is.

“The amount of time and effort I put into it was phenomenal. I’d taken early retirement in April and was virtually working at the Down job full-time.”

Asked what he’d learned while in charge of his adopted county, McCorry replied: “A wise man that I would listen to said to me: ‘Jim, why did you think you would be treated any differently when you saw what happened to Pete McGrath, Paddy O’Rourke and Ross Carr?’

“And my response was: ‘I didn’t think I would be treated differently but I thought I would get more than six months of playing time.’

“What I’ve learned is that there is going to be no comparison to that type of scenario again in the future. There are politics at the top level in the GAA that people scratch their heads at. There are politics with a small ‘p’ at club level that I’ve dealt with over the years, and that’s fairly minor and easy to deal with.

“I suppose at county level it’s hard to understand why people can’t see a bigger picture rather than concentrating on the last result.”

In thanking the players and his backroom team of Mark Copeland, John Morgan and strength and conditioning coach Ciaran Sloan, McCorry said: “This was something I didn’t particularly want to do because I really enjoyed working with the players. I’d like to thank every one of them and my backroom team – Mark, John and Ciaran.

“Success this year wasn’t just about going up to Division One, it was about trying to create a club atmosphere where all the cliques were removed and to play better football. So there was a lot of progression behind the scenes.

“That’s going to start again whoever is going to come in. I wanted to make it work. I wanted to be the Down manager for another two years and to win an Ulster Championship.”

And the future?

To take his wife, Roisin, on an long overdue holiday.

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