GAA Football

Kicking Out: Derry clubs considering nuclear options lies at county board's door

"If Rory Gallagher doesn’t get ratified, having embarrassed the other candidates with their process, where does Derry county board go then?"

BY 9pm this evening, Derry will either have installed Rory Gallagher as the county’s new football manager, or the clubs will have taken an unprecedented step to block his appointment.

The first thing to be clear on is that this isn’t about Rory Gallagher. Sure, there are small pockets of dissent that exist based on the fear that Derry will end up playing the style of football that Fermanagh did under his command, but that’s not the clubs’ gripe.

If Rory Gallagher had come into an interview process and a selection committee had decided that he was the best man for the job, then tonight’s meeting in Owenbeg would simply be a coronation.

Gallagher would have stood on his own two feet in such a process. Of the four candidates, he would have been the most high-profile and the one with the most recent, relevant experience to inter-county football.

That would have been a fairly strong hand, but not necessarily a winning hand either.

Despite Mickey Donnelly’s position as the current under-20 boss, it was Johnny McBride who emerged as the most likely figure to take charge.

His status as a Derry legend would have helped him, but so too would the fact that he had Paddy Bradley coming along with him.

The county board and players were known to be keen on Ciaran Meenagh returning after impressing this year, and it seemed probable that he would have joined up with McBride’s possible setup had they been given the job.

It was a decent team and one that would have been popular with supporters.

That’s not to say McBride - whose managerial experience amounts to one year with the Loup, one year with Galbally and one year working under Malachy O’Rourke in Fermanagh - would have been given the job.

There were some in the camp that felt Mickey Donnelly, who claimed in an interview with the County Derry Post back at the start of the process that he had received a “gentleman’s agreement” that he would step up from the U20s when Damian McErlain left the senior job, could be the man.

Circumstance certainly weakened his hand, given that McErlain left a year earlier than most expected, and that Donnelly was then coming in having seen the U20s well beaten by Tyrone in an Ulster final for which they were shorn a number of key players, but were still facing a side that Derry had beaten well at minor level.

Peter Doherty, a former Tyrone U21 manager with a wealth of club experience, and long-serving Eoghan Rua boss Sean McGoldrick were the other ticket that went together as a partnership.

Again, some felt their experience and steady hand might have been useful to a young squad, though they were the outside bet.

But none of those three potential management teams ever made it as far as an interview. They all pulled out in the 48 hours after the nominations window was closed, when it was confirmed that Rory Gallagher was in the hat. He had met with director of football Brian McIver the week previous.

Speaking of Malachy O’Rourke, they approached him too. But if you want to talk a man like Malachy O’Rourke out of a gap year and into what could be a potentially attractive job, you don’t go about it in the uncoordinated manner that Derry did.

And then the tin hat on it was when an approach was made to Johnny McBride to see if he would join Rory Gallagher’s potential backroom team.

Asking a man who was involved in the process and who had assembled his own backroom team to go and act as the assistant to another was the final nail in the coffin in terms of the way the county board was handling the selection.

It was clear from that approach that Gallagher was the man they wanted.

Yet all of this was done against the backdrop of the clubs having insisted on a meeting with the county board in order to ensure that, in the early part of the process, their issues were properly addressed.

The first meeting was spiky, with clubs demanding answers on a variety of topics from top to bottom, around governance, finance and football.

The recruitment of a new manager was the top priority and a way forward was plotted at the meeting, including the formation of a new five-man interview panel to pick the next manager.

The window for nominations would stay open to allow clubs more time to throw names into the mix.

It’s always been the county board’s right to speak to others, and it’s only right that if they felt someone was out there that hadn’t been nominated but might be capable, they should bring them in for interview.

Head-hunting is not an unusual part of any appointment process, in any walk of life. And again, it’s not the fact that Rory Gallagher was head-hunted that was the issue.

If the county board had wanted to approach him, ascertain his interest and ask him to attend an interview in front of a neutral committee with relative independence, that’s fine. That could have been done by a phone call. But why the need for a meeting?

Or if they wanted to go and hand-pick their own man, then why not just tell the clubs that’s what they want to do? Instead, the interview process had to effectively be abandoned because the other three candidates had all pulled out.

The clubs have been ridden roughshod over. They had two meetings with the county board in which they were promised that events would be handled differently.

And so tonight, the clubs will hold a meeting of their own in Owenbeg before the county board joins them to put Gallagher’s name forward for ratification.

For a proposed new manager not to be ratified by the clubs in any county is practically unheard of. Yet in Derry, they’re considering pushing the nuclear button.

And in a county where there have long been divisions between club and county, the last thing that any new manager could have afforded was for that alienation to embed itself further.

They may blame the media – with one county board official referring to journalists as “parasites” in that original meeting with the clubs – but this is at their own door.

At a time when Derry county board needed to build bridges, they’ve taken a sledgehammer out instead.

If Rory Gallagher gets ratified tonight, he starts on the back foot through no fault of his own.

If he doesn’t get ratified, having embarrassed the other candidates with their process, where does Derry county board go then?

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