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Pete McGrath deserved better from Fermanagh players

Pete McGrath was forced out of Fermanagh by player power

EAMONN Burns left training mystified at John Murphy’s claim. Burns was still playing for Down at the time.

“John would have been Pete’s [McGrath] wing man – and he said that management was three or four times the amount of work to that of a player,” recalls Burns.

“I remember going home in the car, thinking: ‘How does that man figure that he’s doing four times the work that we’re doing? It’s impossible.’”

It’s only in later life when Burns stepped into a manager’s shoes that he understood what Murphy was saying.

“As a player, you’re only worrying about yourself and the guys around you,” Burns adds.

“The management is worrying about everybody. Where you’re going? Who you’re playing? Where you’re eating? How you’re getting home? What’s happening next week?

“It’s a different ball game altogether and you are the last port of call for everything.

“There is always a problem waiting for you at the end of a phone call or an email or a text message or when you arrive at training.”

I found myself nodding with everything Burns was saying.

A few years ago, I helped manage our soccer team – Newington FC.

We were a top intermediate club – and still are.

I did two seasons on the sidelines, which was more than enough.

The team was on my mind 24/7.

Saturday would start with a visit to the local supermarket to buy bananas, Jaffa cakes and energy drinks.

I fondly recall our flying winger, Jamesy, eating a banana and a few Jaffa cakes and then lighting up a cigarette.

After the supermarket, it was on to the local chemist to stock up the team’s medical bag.

Wintergreen, bandages, plasters, Vicks, Ralgex spray, insulating tape, preferrably white.

During these Saturday morning trips you go over in your head the warm-up routine and what messages certain players needed to hear before games.

In pre-season, my old friend Marty McElkennon travelled up to take a few sessions at our pitch Muckamore Park.

Before a Steel & Sons Cup quarter-final against Bangor, a herd of cows got onto our pitch and made it virtually unplayable.

Before starting work, I spent several mornings at the pitch trying to fill in the divots to make it semi-playable.

One morning I swore I heard a cow in a nearby field chortling.

We lost 3-2 to Bangor in an epic encounter.

Before some big games, we would print out specific motivational quotes for the players and they would read them before placing them down their sock.

In a bid to raise morale at different stages of the season, we had group sessions where players had to write down on a piece of paper something positive (unsigned) about a team-mate before they were read out to the squad.

Of course, most of these ideas were plagiarized.

We did our best with what we had.

As a management team, we made lots of mistakes.

Some players would have trained better and more often than others but we always tried to get the best team out on the field.

Our team selections weren’t always fair.

As many people involved in coaching will testify, the vast majority of players are innately selfish.

They are oblivious to most things beyond themselves.

If a training drill wasn't quite right at Newington, the players wouldn’t be long in telling you.

I sincerely hope some of the Fermanagh players who sacked Pete McGrath last week will go into football management in the future because if they do they might have a different perspective on events over the last couple of weeks.

No matter what angle you view the latest controversy in the Erne County, the players’ case to get rid of McGrath was built on sand.

There appeared to be two key issues that annoyed players: the way in which McGrath used his bench in their Ulster preliminary round defeat to Monaghan and the poor fitness levels of another player.

Hardly grounds for a move against a manager.

It’s a far-cry from McGrath’s first year in charge.

Players expressed concerns about the team’s lack of defensive structure when McGrath took over.

McGrath listened and made the requisite changes and things improved beyond recognition in his second year – a point that was made by former defender Marty O’Brien on a local podcast show.

It was brought to McGrath’s attention that there were some issues emanating from this season’s desperately disappointing campaign.

But nothing that seemed insurmountable, at least in the eyes of the Down man.

But it was clear the agitators wanted McGrath gone.

When a county like Fermanagh is shorn of close to a dozen players – most of them regular starters - from one season to the next due to retirements, emigration and injuries, it seems an even greater injustice on McGrath.

Current panelist Barry Mulrone appeared on the same podcast show as O'Brien and after listening to it twice now it's still hard to determine the exact nature of McGrath's unforgivable sins.

At least Mulrone was prepared to appear on the podcast.

The Irish News tried to contact Eoin Donnelly (to no avail) in order to give the team captain the opportunity to explain why McGrath had to go.

Or maybe they feel it was a PR battle they couldn't hope to win and that silence was their best option.

But the fact there wasn’t so much as a players’ statement released to praise the contribution of McGrath is staggering and sours the entire period he was in charge there.

They mightn't know it now but through the passage of time the Fermanagh players might look back at 2017 and wince at their own radical, non-negotiable youth.

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