Kicking Out: Vilification of outside men a lazy narrative
WHEN Enda Muldoon surveyed all in front of him and lofted the ball into the chest of Collie Devlin, Ballinderry struck for the goal that become the anchor in three consecutive Derry titles.
It was 2012 and the Shamrocks had re-established themselves as the county’s dominant force after a surprise defeat by Coleraine in 2010. They would go on to win Ulster the following year.
When they played man-to-man football, the only team that could touch them was Crossmaglen. Were it not for the provincial presence of one of the greatest footballing teams of all time, the two Ulster titles Ballinderry won would have been multiplied to a far greater number.
Martin McKinless was viewed as their lucky charm. His brand of fire-and-brimstone management brought the absolute best out of a team that reacted best to being let off the leash.
McKinless patrolled the touchline with such adrenaline that there were often tears in eyes that his smile would widen boyishly on the days they won, which was most of the time.
When he stood down at the end of 2014, he went with five Derry titles, an Ulster and with the incredible record of never having lost a championship game in the county during two different spells.
With the Derry title secured by that brilliant Devlin goal in 2012, their first step into Ulster put them up against Ronan McGuckin.
He had been a stalwart of Ballinderry teams across a generation and wasn’t long retired when he went into Tyrone to cut his teeth in management.
Errigal Ciaran’s door was open and through it he stepped. Before anything was agreed, he told the Dunmoyle club’s committee that in the unlikely event they would meet Ballinderry somewhere down the line, he would step aside rather than manage against his native club.
Either way that year, Ballinderry were meeting one of their own. The Tyrone final, Errigal v Dromore, pitted McGuckin up against Paul McIver.
The reality for young coaches in the club at that time was that they had to go elsewhere to cut their teeth.
At that time, the Ballinderry job was one of the biggest in Ireland, never mind Ulster.
But it was Martin McKinless’ job for as long as he wanted it. Rightly so, with a record like his.
The Shamrocks not only have a tradition of producing players but also of producing coaches. They can’t all manage their own club.
Ronan McGuckin won a Tyrone title with Errigal, their last to date. Paul McIver’s Dromore were reigning champions from his 2011 term, and he would go on to win three Down titles with Kilcoo.
His father, Brian, was the 2002 All-Ireland club winning manager with the club. Paul’s brother Michael is on the club’s current management team.
Conleith Gilligan has since helped the same club to two Down and one Ulster titles, as well as coming within a whisker of an All-Ireland club title in defeat by Corofin.
The Andy Merrigan Cup holds a special place in Ballinderry hearts since they carried it into county Derry from across the bridge in the dual-citizenship village 19 years ago.
One of the first coaching successes that team produced was when Barry McOscar took little Lissan from nowhere to a very rare Ulster junior final in 2007.
At present, Mickey Conlan, Michael McIver and Mark McGeehan are in charge of the club’s senior team. On Saturday, they came up against one of their own in Philip Muldoon, who joined Lavey’s management team under Jude Donnelly this year.
Darren Conway has had a stint in charge of Ballymaguigan, with whom he continues to play. Ronan Devlin’s influence on Cargin’s success in Antrim, where he works alongside Damian Cassidy, and in the maiden MacRory Cup success for St Mary’s Magherafelt in 2017 cannot be understated.
Killian Conlan has been in charge of Newbridge for a couple of seasons, and recently guided them to victory in Shamrock Park against his brother Mickey. Killian was coach for Derry minors’ run to the All-Ireland final in 2007, a team that contained Gavin McGeehan, who went on to coach county minors and then seniors under Damian McErlain.
Enda Muldoon is in the current Derry senior backroom team with Rory Gallagher.
You could go on and on. Suffice to say that there is a wealth of footballing knowledge contained in the few small clusters of houses that make up Ballinderry village.
Men managing outside their own club is something that’s routinely vilified. Yet what would have become of all those men as coaches had they only been allowed to stay inside?
One of the key points is that almost all of those men mentioned above have been giving back in the form of taking underage teams within Ballinderry’s own structure as well.
But coaching, like anything, is an ambitious game.
There’s a very lazy narrative that suggests anyone managing outside of their own club is automatically a mercenary. That they could only be doing it for handsome expenses and glamour.
Like the questioning of Paddy Tally’s decision to try his hand with Kerry. If you’d dedicated the last 20-plus years to improving yourself as a coach and you were offered the chance to coach Kerry’s footballers, would you not jump at it?
Social media jumped quickly on what his expenses bill might be, but no amount of money would make anyone traipse up and down the road from Galbally to Killarney. It’s five hours each road. Just imagine the exhaustion.
The reality of coaching comes in two parts.
Often, internal opportunities are limited. When Martin McKinless was in charge of Ballinderry, what were Ronan McGuckin, Paul McIver, Killian Conlan, etc supposed to do?
When McGuckin was in Errigal Ciaran, he was at a very similar club to his own. Think of all the bodies that they’ve given to coaching within Ulster of recent years.
From Mickey Harte through the likes of his son Mark, Adrian O’Donnell, Paudge and Tiffy Quinn, Peter and Pascal Canavan, Joe Canavan (who was on the other side of the fence, involved with Ballinderry under McKinless), and now on to Antrim boss Enda McGinley, there were no shortage of intelligent football men coming out of Dunmoyle.
The other side of it is that, particularly within smaller clubs, there is a growing dearth of willingness and expertise.
Clubs that have traditionally swam in shallow waters can be affected by a self-perpetuating cycle of mediocrity.
Nobody coached them properly as players and when they retire, they’re either going into coaching completely ill-prepared, or as is increasingly the case, they’re not going into it at all.
Plenty of counties and clubs continue to have success with inside men. That will always be the way too.
Players, whether their own attitudes and abilities deserve it or not, have come to expect a higher standard that many clubs simply cannot provide internally.
Like anything, there are people in coaching who are motivated by money. But for the majority, it’s about helping improve players, and learning themselves in the hope of perhaps achieving success from the sideline.
It’s too easy a negative label to stick on young, ambitious coaches.
When you have people willing to put themselves out there and take on what is a very difficult, often brutal and unforgiving job, why do we not streamline and encourage it?
Continuing to vilify outside men is only encouraging a brain drain away from the GAA towards other sports.
County boards should be creating proper coaching pathways and putting greater emphasis on the coaching of coaches.
A lot of clubs, like it or not, need outside help. It comes at a cost – but for many, it’s worth paying.