Joe Kernan: League offers no honeymoon for new bosses
When the closing stages of the All-Ireland Championship were reached last year we all awaited the inevitable.
Pressure point: New Ulster bosses (from left) John O’Neill (Fermanagh) and John Brennan (Derry) will be expected to deliver encouraging results in the early stages of the National League
No, not the crowning of the new champions but the catalogue of managerial casualties that normally ensues when the action begins to wind down.
Yet who would have predicted that no fewer than 11 counties would part company with their senior football team bosses either because they had resigned or been sacked.
Nothing brought home more forcibly to the public at large the intense pressure under which managers operate than this cold statistic.
Some of the managers had been in situ for a lengthy spell — Seamus McEnaney in Monaghan, for instance — while others like Meath’s Eamon O’Brien had delivered a Leinster title in his two years in charge and still got the bullet!
When all those managers were initially appointed it was against a backdrop of optimism with county boards making all the right noises and promising unswerving support to the man in charge.
But it only takes a couple of wayward results to transform the relationship between a manager and his board. And that’s why the raft of new managers will feel under considerable pressure from this weekend onwards as the National Football League is set in motion as a prelude to the even more important provincial and All-Ireland championships.
Every newly-appointed manager will invariably plead for one vital element when he takes over — time.
But that is a commodity that some find in very short supply, even when they are battling against difficult circumstances.
Damien Cassidy was confronted by a lengthy injury list in Derry, Sean Dempsey faced a similar problem in Laois and Malachy O’Rourke was denied a rub of the green while in charge of Fermanagh.
Now the pressure will mount on team bosses to deliver. You can be sure of one thing — by the time we reach the second round of league fixtures on the weekend of February 19-20, the media will already be speculating about who will be relegated.
That’s how morbid things can get — the knives can be out from an early stage.
A successful run in the National League can mean a lot to a team. For a start, it usually means that the manager has acquired a settled blend and it also means confidence is high.
In addition fans will come out in support of a winning side which in turn means that such a county’s share from the National League financial ‘pot’ will be generous and nothing is geared to please county board officials more than that.
Down made a strong start to the league last year, sustained their momentum and deservedly earned promotion to Division One.
Not only did they illuminate the second most important competition but they went on to reach the All-Ireland final in which they were unfortunate to lose by a solitary point to Cork.
A lot of teams will now want to take a leaf from Down’s book. This time last year James McCartan was wet behind the ears
in terms of county team management — today he is among the top 10 in the country, I would venture to suggest, following his team’s spirited surge in 2010.
Indeed, the personable McCartan should be the yardstick by which Ulster’s quintet of new managers — John O’Neill (Fermanagh), Jim McGuinness (Donegal), Eamon McEnaney (Monaghan), Val Andrews (Cavan) and John Brennan (Derry) — should judge themselves over the coming months.
They along with the other half-dozen new appointees are facing into a season that will be fraught with pressure and garnished with expectation.
And while the new bosses deserve every encouragement as they strive to prove themselves and chart a successful narrative for their sides, they will be charting a difficult route.
The notion that ‘it’s only the league’ was dispelled some time ago when teams realised that preferring to remain in a low gear could prove catastrophic.
Pundits are predicting the winners of the National League will emerge from Dublin, Kerry or Cork — three teams with experienced managers, recent form and a winning mentality.
But can I give you a dark horse to eventually carry off the silverware?
Look no further than Down.