Danny Hughes: The trials of being an inter-county manager have never been more demanding

Brendan Crossan

Brendan Crossan

Brendan is a sports reporter at The Irish News. He has worked at the media outlet since January 1999 and specialises in GAA, soccer and boxing. He has been the Republic of Ireland soccer correspondent since 2001 and has covered the 2002 and 2006 World Cup finals and the 2012 European Championships

Paddy Tally left Down and has now helped Kerry win an All-Ireland
Paddy Tally left Down and has now helped Kerry win an All-Ireland Paddy Tally left Down and has now helped Kerry win an All-Ireland

THERE used to be a time when the studio or commentary box was the place to be after hanging up the inter-county boots.

Now it appears it is the sideline.

Increasingly county boards are seeing the benefit of seeking critics in the tent rather than outside looking in.

There is a more derogatory reference here but we will not go there.

I was surprised when Colm O’Rourke was ratified as the next Meath manager, not because he hasn’t the credentials; it was a case that he had been so emphatic when asked on TV, it appeared the most unlikely of appointments.

In addition, he has been a pundit since 1991 on RTE and 30 years on, one would assume the comfort of that role would be such that made managing a county team look like a day’s work in comparison.

Positions have opened up in Antrim (Andy McEntee), Monaghan, Down and Donegal within Ulster at the end of each side's championship and given that positions still remain within Mayo, Longford, Wexford, Offaly and now Roscommon, the names that are being thrown around and linked to the positions are the who’s who of the game.

Managing an inter-county team appears to be a full-time job.

And very few counties have the ability to fund this position in such a manner.

There are only certain professions that appear to be suited toward involvement in inter-county management.

Teaching is the big one given the nature of the start and end time during the average working day.

In addition, the holidays also lean toward spare capacity to deal with the work involved in preparing the modern county team.

For the person who has retired, the energy required as a manager is a welcome opportunity to ensure that you don’t drift into God’s waiting room.

My own father is 74-years-old and has the youthful exuberance of a 20-something-year-old.

If he retired, I don’t think he would last very long.

So, we continually tease him and tell him to keep working toward our inheritance!

Management, though, in the modern game is a very tough gig.

Social media, in particular, has made the job much harder for the manager and it is normally the wider family who suffer most.

Personal abuse and trolling should never be part of the conversation or the game, but unfortunately, etiquette around respect has fundamentally shifted.

I remember receiving a text message in my early years from an individual giving me abuse and still, to this day, it takes everything inside me to let it go when I see him.

I never read forums nor interact via social media so thankfully I was largely unaware.

As a club manager now, with a patient wife and demanding kids, you have to be very careful in how to react to defeat or problems within the confines of the team.

I am not a joy to be around when we lose – it is my own club so, naturally, that will be the case, but it is multiplied when managing.

Very young kids don’t really care or understand the depth of feeling either – yours is a lifelong commitment that can be rolled up into 60 minutes in many instances.

All you see is the last match. Context and perspective is lost.

When the stakes are so high at inter-county management, the days of a Brian Cody or Mickey Harte era of longevity in management are probably gone.

I do also believe that, with or without success, management terms should be capped at five years max.

We all can’t do a Jim Gavin in that time, but certainly given the nature of county board appointments, they normally pull contenders from the same pool every time, so it would be fair to share a team around.

Generally, three-year cycles normally suffice and it takes a particularly patient county board to silence the noise (if any) and back continuity.

Down are seeking their fourth manager since 2014 when James McCartan held the reins first.

Paddy Tally had two COVID-hit seasons and I didn’t blame him for not wanting to extend his term beyond three seasons.

Look at where he is now and I am sure he doesn’t regret his decision.

In certain quarters of Down, people would have wanted to see Tally fail.

Hard to believe, but you only have to understand the politics here, levels of toxicity, as well as the disconnect between county board and clubs and you can begin to imagine that the Down job is not a straightforward one.

I am on the outside of that tent I talked about earlier and via this forum (Irish News) over the years called for major change, structurally and administratively.

I believe the job of a Down manager is to bring integrity, honesty and most of all hard work into a squad that doesn’t lack skill, but does lack a direction.

It is unrealistic to expect Down to do what I was part of in 2010; people forget the work that Paddy O’Rourke, Ross Carr and DJ Kane put in prior to James McCartan, Paddy Tally and Brian McIver taking up their roles.

They all had to take a fair share of abuse.

Down can no longer win an All-Ireland akin to 1991 or 1994.

The back door has made it increasingly more difficult for a start.

It was a different era, type of football and Down had been blessed with once-in-a-generation type players.

We need something much more sustainable and from my perspective, it starts with the senior job.

I believe that if we are to appoint from within, we secure long-term experts in the key areas of Athletic Development, Strength & Conditioning and Juvenile Development.

Therefore, the Down senior manager (hurling and football) may change, however, the personnel backing him up does not.

In addition, given the injury crisis in most counties, a full-time physio that understands the history of a particular player needs to be made a priority.

Most people I talk to recognise things need to change at the top.

Those at the top feel targeted.

The manager’s job is a populist appointment and if it works out - and that’s a big ‘if’ - they get the kudos.

However, it’s a sticking plaster.

One U20 Ulster title last season was welcome but to compete at senior level, you need multiple minor All-Irelands and underage titles.

One very important point I feel is important.

Managers and coaches have very different roles.

Some brilliant coaches cannot manage and some brilliant managers cannot coach.

Being the best at either involves recognising the distinction and being happy with your role.

A significant amount of counties find themselves in appointment ‘mode’.

Most will end unsuccessful. Logically, that’s just the way the game is.

Regardless of all those drawbacks and logic, being in that frame of mind of leading players, you always think it won’t be you.

That’s what makes them manager’s I guess.

Success is just around the corner...