Cahair O'Kane: View from on high the best one for managers

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair O'Kane

Cahair is a sports reporter and columnist with the Irish News specialising in Gaelic Games.

Kieran McGeeney will be banned from the sideline for Armagh's Ulster Championship clash with Down, but should view it as an opportunity rather than a punishment. Picture by Philip Walsh
Kieran McGeeney will be banned from the sideline for Armagh's Ulster Championship clash with Down, but should view it as an opportunity rather than a punishment. Picture by Philip Walsh

“I’d rather be up there away from the emotion of the game and to me that’s important. My job is to make changes.”

That was Paul McIver last autumn on why he chooses to remove himself from the heat of the sideline and take a seat at the back of the stand during games.

In some quarters, he was given a sore touch it despite guiding Kilcoo to a fifth straight Down title and the Ulster club final last season.

To me, his decision made perfect sense.

What informs the instructions that most managers impart along the line? Largely a look through a gaggle of legs at a sea of bodies at a vantage point from where even the keenest football mind would struggle to discern a shape.

To some managers, the idea of giving instruction is to stand on the line and tell the players when to switch the play or where to run or where to kick the ball.

That’s not management and indeed it’s a sign of very poor coaching on more than one front.

Feeling the need to micro-manage the game from the sideline is indicative of a) a lack of time spent on coaching the basic ideals of a gameplan and b) a lack of trust in the players on the field to communicate effectively for themselves.

If you aren’t coaching the players to communicate to the point where you feel you have to do it for them, then there’s clearly some kind of a breakdown.

Rugby union has a long-held tradition, with its roots in the public school academies, that players should be left to work the game out on their own.

Not in the sense of leaving them to their devices and letting them sink; rather that you impart the gameplan on them in the days running up to the game and you allow them the freedom – and harbour them with the responsibility – of carrying it out.

That, to me, is good coaching.

At international and elite club level, you will see the head coaches positioned as high up as possible, usually in a box of their own.

They have their work done on the training field during the week and they will outline how they want the team to play and what they want the game to look at. The captain and other players in a leadership group will run the game on the field.

The best place to know if any of it has come to pass, or needs to change, is where they watch it from on high.

The press area at Croke Park is an open area located at the very front of the upper tier of the Hogan Stand. Some class it as being in the Gods. Some bring binoculars.

But from the very first moment I set foot into it, I’ve loved it. The first time I was ever in it was for the 2007 All-Ireland final. Derry were beaten by Galway in the minor game and Kerry hammered Cork in the seniors.

The most vivid memory I have is of being enthralled by the view I had of the game. At a single glance, you could see the entire shape of what was going on beneath you.

With a rather foolish interest in a bit of management some time in the future, and a very sad preoccupation for tactics, I learnt from that day.

Any time I can get a heightened vantage from which to view a game, I’ll take it.

It might not be the closest to the action, you might not hear the shout of the players and you might need to very occasionally turn to a mate beside you and say ‘who kicked that?’, but in terms of analysing a game’s pattern and its path, there is no better place to be.

Good ‘management’, as we call it in GAA, is closing up the chinks that will inevitably appear in even the most formulaic, mastered of gameplans during the game itself.

How do you see those chinks from the sideline through the sea of bodies? I’m not really sure, to be honest. You see very little.

Most counties will have a man in the stand but unless that man is the manager, how much authority his tactical opinion commands will vary from team to team.

For many reasons, GAA managers have traditionally had to be a jack-of-all-trades, from tactician to trainer to psychologist.

Dublin have redefined standards in that regard with a 23-person backroom team. Not every county can afford to meet those standards.

But the modern game determines that the very least that is required is a sharp tactical mind that is given some licence to make decisions.

Kieran McGeeney’s 12-week sideline ban – however ridiculous the latest quirk of an antiquated rulebook that is long past the point of funny looks – provides a great test of his tactical acumen and coaching ability.

The time between now and the Down game on June 4 to formulate the plan on the training field. There’s plenty of scope over the 70 minutes to fix it from a better vantage point than he would otherwise had.

Punishment… what punishment?