GAA Football

Managing expectations in GAA clubs as the Ashes loom Down Under

As the late, great Eamonn Coleman said: "The players is the men".
Andy Watters

THAT Tik Tok video of the fella taking the call from a club hunting for a new manager gave me a good laugh.

I’ve been there and obviously not as the man taking the call, I’ve been the fella making it when time has tik-tok-ed on and there’s no manager in place for next season and the other clubs have already started training and the sweat is on and a short list (as opposed to a shortlist) of possible candidates has been drawn up.

A minute or two of small talk and then you get to the point: “Aye, here, erm, just wondering would you be interested in taking our seniors next year?” you ask with the slick marketing panache of a P.T. Barnum.

Your skilful opening gambit has been met with awkward silence but you soldier on: “We’ve got this lad and that lad is coming back and there’s these fellas coming through and, lots of potential there and sure I’ll give you a hand and…”

The other fella jumps in: “I’ll stop you there. It’s an honour to be even asked (there’s a ‘but’ coming) it really is but (aye there it is) I don’t have the time…”

Young family, new job, baby on the way, wife would go nuts, taking a break, building a house, launching a new album, rehearsing for a part in the next Bond movie…

In the Tik Tok video, the fella quickly changes his tune when the expenses he’d be getting are brought up.

“Well, it’s like this,” he says, suddenly full of blood and thunder.

“If we get our act together from the 1st of January, there’s no **** in this county that’ll ******* beat us. Of course I’ll take the job! Come on!”

In my playing days – long before Tik Tok - outside managers were unheard of. Local men stepped up to became managers and the success of Clann Eireann in Armagh, Derrygonnelly in Fermanagh and Dromore in Tyrone – with former players Tommy Coleman, Sean Flanagan and Collie McCullagh at their respective helms – shows many still do.

But taking on any senior team these days involves so much time and effort that the pool of homegrown candidates can quickly run dry and so the same names – men with the time on their hands and the ability (and willingness) to train and organise a team – often resurface at different clubs. A decent expenses budget might not be the be-all and end-all and it does not guarantee success but it certainly helps get somebody in to do the job.

A few clubs will be digging deep to get a new man in so their chairman can eat his Christmas dinner in peace. There’s been a frenzy of activity since the end of last season and in Armagh, senior outfits Maghery, Ballymacnab and Killeavy are among the ambitious clubs on the hunt for a new bainisteoir.

Those three are chasing the championship dream and, after years of throwing good money after bad, perhaps now is the time to get the chequebook out because the Armagh senior championship is as open as it probably ever has been.

For two decades, Armagh clubs could have brought Mick O’Dwyer in as the figurehead of a managerial dream team including Alex Ferguson as trainer, Vince Lombardi as stats man and Kevin Heffernan looking after the S&C but Crossmaglen would have gone home with the Gerry Fagan Cup anyway.

Cross won 19 senior titles in 20 years but they’ve taken two of the last six and Maghery, Armagh Harps and now Clann Eireann are all serious challengers.

So there is a growing sense among the pack chasing the top dogs that the gap is not what it once was, hence the regular turnover of managers as clubs attempt to manoeuvre themselves into a winning position for the year ahead.

The new management will bring their own way of doing things, fresh drills there, a tweak of the tactics and personnel here but ultimately the attitude in the squad has to be geared towards constant hard work and a desire to improve and compete.

Kilcoo, who begin the defence of their Ulster title tomorrow, is a good example. The epitome of a community club, their success over the past decade has been spearheaded by the men they’ve brought in from outside their mountainous borders - Jim McCorry, Paul McIver and now Derry natives Mickey Moran and Conleith Gilligan.

Do you think any of them had to ring round to get boys gathered up for a game or chase them home from pubs? Not a chance.

The right manager can make a difference but, as the late great Eamonn Coleman famously said: “The players is the men”.

SO are you all set for the Ashes?

Yeah, they start in Australia next Wednesday and…

Oh you’re away on, I thought I spotted that glazed look in your eye. I’ve seen it many times before, sure I used to have it myself as somebody who: ‘Likes all sports – EXCEPT CRICKET’.

Well that all changed for me in about 30 seconds on a summer evening way back in 1985 when for some inexplicable reason I sat down to watch an Ashes Test and was struck by a shiny red bouncer of sporting lightning that immediately transformed me into a cricket fanatic.

From that point on, cricket dominated my thoughts but it was a love that dared not speak its name because the only ashes they were interested in in my neck of the woods were Brian Boru’s. Soccer was just about tolerated in those days but cricket... having anything to do with the game of the English gentlemen was considered a mortal trespass.

“Bless me father for I have sinned: I watched the entire England second innings against Pakistan and then read Wisden Cricket Monthly from cover to cover…”

Even after 75 Hail Marys I couldn't help myself. Our backgarden became the scene of countless games between myself and reluctant friends and family. Before long, friends arrived at the door with ready-made excuses about why we should do something else and they were still going through them as I handed them a tennis ball and marked out my guard on off stump with a bat ingeniously constructed from a board pulled from the neighbour’s fence.

Alas, the time came when my mates no longer called but I was content to (no double entendre intended) play with myself. Exams came and went as I concentrated instead on learning the nuanced jargon of the game: Fine leg, third man, silly mid-off, full toss, maiden, wicket maiden, double-wicket maiden, hook, cut, googly, chinaman, bouncer, Geoff Boycott, Richie Benaud, off-cutter, line and length, Kapil Dev, boundary, getting to the pitch, Lillee and Thompson, heavy roller, Don Bradman, Lords, the Gabba, straight bat, sweep, Eden Gardens, LBW, stumped, openers, yorker, night watchman, slips, gully etc, etc, etc…

Over the years I’ve managed to keep a lid on it but even now when West Indies are playing somewhere/anywhere in the world at whatever ungodly hour, I find myself unable to sleep. Even as I write this, I’ve been checking the score of the second Test from Galle, Sri Lanka (328 for 8 if you’re wondering).

Anyway, sure give me a shout if you’re staying up for the Ashes.

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