Joe Kernan: Kildare manager Kieran McGeeney in a class of his own
IT is doubtful if any role within the GAA has become more pressurised in recent years than that of a senior county team manager.
I am fully aware that players, officers, referees, coaches and others are confronted by increased workloads, additional meetings and extra responsibilities in different areas.
But a team manager in either football or hurling is generally the public face of his sport in a particular county.
As such, his every decision, utterance and move is dissected and analysed — some would say in microscopic detail.
That’s why the credentials for becoming a county boss have become rather more detailed — such a person finds himself serving as a selector, counsellor, mediator, PR consultant, off-field motivator and diplomat among other roles.
This being the case, it is easy to understand why it is so difficult for managers to make an impact in their initial year with a team — those who achieve this are indeed special people.
And it is worth noting that great players do not automatically become great managers — think Roy Keane — whereas people who perhaps played football at a very modest level can scale great heights in management.
Kieran McGeeney of course is a notable exception to this as indeed is James McCartan. But while the Down man is still in his first season in charge, McGeeney is now in his third term in charge of Kildare and by all accounts is viewed as a demi-god in the county.
That’s hardly surprising. He took the Lily Whites into the All Ireland quarter-finals in 2008 and again last year and has now steered them into an All Ireland semi-final meeting with Down on Sunday week.
When it comes to commitment, single-mindedness and dedication to a cause, McGeeney is in a class of his own. As a player he rendered magnificent service to Armagh for 15-plus years, his term highlighted by his inspirational captaincy when the Sam Maguire Cup was won in 2002.
He has now transferred his intensity, sense of purpose and unrelenting drive for success into the management sphere and finds himself on the cusp of an All Ireland final appearance.
Teams like Meath and Monaghan that thought they might have had Kildare cornered were dispatched from Croke Park with their tails between their legs — but satisfying though these wins were, McGeeney wants more. And he will make fierce demands of his players against Down.
He will come up against a shrewd tactician and clever motivator in McCartan who, just coming up to eight months on active duty with Down, has already earned his own special niche in management.
With two All Ireland medals as a player to his credit, Croke Park is already a home from home for McCartan — and his battle of wits with McGeeney on Sunday week will be utterly fascinating.
While they will be on opposite sides of the divide, together they have sparked a mini-influx of newer, younger managers into the inter-county arena.
Jim McGuinness recently took up the reins at Donegal, only a couple of days ago Justin McNulty was confirmed as the new Laois boss and with Monaghan, Derry and Fermanagh all preparing to unveil new bosses the chances are that these counties too will be prepared to invest in the younger brigade.
Mind you, McGeeney, McCartan and their ilk have a lot to live up to. Sean Boylan managed Meath for 23 years and won four All Ireland titles while Mick O’Dwyer has long since achieved legendary status as a boss with Kerry, Laois, Kildare and Wicklow. Tyrone’s Mickey Harte has already been elevated up among the pantheon of truly great managers.
These are the men who have set the template for the new breed of managers who are bringing a refreshing dimension to the All Ireland series. Naturally I, like other managers, would love to be involved at this stage of the proceedings.
But I can still take great comfort from the fact that, despite the pressures, new faces have come on board to hopefully bring their respective counties to an even brighter future.