Mayo players need reality check

The Mayo players gather after their All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin
The Last Line with Benny Tierney

A FEW months ago, in my working life, I took a huge, tentative leap of faith in leaving the relative comfort of the classroom and becoming a school principal - and I can already hear the comments of 'who would let 'yon eejit run a school?' - or as I have been called recently, the principal with few principles.

But like every facet of my life, I will approach my new job description with all the confidence and positivity that I generally approach most things.

This week, I attended my first meeting of newly appointed principals and, amidst all the worried and ashen-faced expressions due to the new demands and responsibilities of the job, I realised, like any Gaelic footballer out there, I had left the hallowed playing fields, which I adored and become a manager and a leader (of sorts).

At the end of the meeting, we were spoken to by an experienced principal from, of all places, county Tyrone, but after putting my initial inherent rivalry aside, I found his input both refreshing and, more importantly, reassuring as he regaled us with some of his many experiences and, at times, hilarious encounters.

Regarding leadership, he told us there were three approaches to leadership: 1. Dictatorial; 2. Charismatic; 3. Collegiate. In truth, these attributes of management can all fit quite simply into the GAA coach, too, as he adapts to and adopts his career-defining managerial stance.

The dictator is someone who I would have encountered throughout my footballing career as the hard-nosed authoritarian whose word is gospel and shall only be challenged in fear of direct reprimand, somewhat in the Alex Ferguson mould, who did not suffer fools gladly. Maybe that was why this particular brand of leadership never really suited my personality or ethos and, yet, plenty of my playing partners accepted this as maybe not enjoyable but perhaps necessary. I will argue against it at all times!

The charismatic manager, I suppose, would be the equivalent of Jose Mourinho with his swashbuckling, confident and, at times, irritating self-assurance, which bothers so many people I talk to. And, yet, I find him both intriguing and stimulating as I think some of it is a charade to deflect publicity and hype away from his players. This type of manager would never last long in the GAA as this stereotype would neither be accepted by his team and, more importantly, the humble supporter.

The collegiate approach is probably now the most common approach, with both players and managers agreeing a set of principles and values, where the team and management are working together towards the one goal.

In essence, I suppose you would need aspects of all three to be a successful manager because hard and ruthless decisions still have to be made, while also displaying an empathy as to what the players have to endure because, in my opinion, too many managers sometimes forget what it was like to be a player, even though it has only been a short while since they occupied the role.

Finding the balance is obviously the key and that is obviously what most successful managers like Brian Cody and Mickey Harte have achieved, which goes some way to explaining their longevity in what can be an isolated position.

Only a fortnight after the All-Ireland and one year into their tenure in charge of Mayo, both Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly have been approached by two senior squad members and informed that the players have met and agreed a vote of no-confidence in their management, barely a month after being defeated in an All-Ireland semi-final replay.

Now, I am all for player-power and hurlers and footballers having their say, but the manner in which this was dealt with is an embarrassment for all involved in Mayo football and, by all accounts, came totally out of the blue. Yes, there is a new sense of empowerment among county players, but surely the tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog. There has to be some sense of both place and prominence in the role of players and the hierarchy, while decreasing all the time, cannot be overtaken by the players.

Mayo were the only team all year who put it up to Dublin and, were it not for some poor finishing in the first game, would have been in an All-Ireland final instead of, on the eve of the final, meeting secretly in clubrooms to plan a mutiny. I am not going to lie to you and say I have never been involved in any secretive meetings in my time in football, complaining and fault-finding about managers, but only after a season that was permeated with losses and underachievement.

I would say the players have put Holmes and Connelly in an untenable position and, instead of going to them and voicing their concerns as to how things could be improved, they have more or less dictated how things should be, which is a poor situation that has been very badly handled.

Football is a lot like teaching in that, when a child does well at school, then he is a great child but, when he or she underperforms, it’s because she has a poor teacher - so be it with footballers and managers. And yet, Mayo footballers have bucked the trend in complaining about a situation they could have easily sorted themselves.

I wonder would they still have had that meeting on the eve of the All-Ireland final if they had been playing in it the next day? I think not.

I’m off now out the window of my office as I see a queue of angry teachers heading for my door. That’s the other great attribute of leadership which I have in abundance - absolute cowardice!


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