Joe Kernan: Young guns lining up for shot at glory
For decades county football team managers tended to be on the ‘wrong’ side of 50, venerable greybeards who commanded respect and in some cases awe because of what they had achieved.
They were viewed as wise owls, men who had been round a lot of corners picking up a world of experience in the process.
Today, though, things are rather different. Quite a number of county teams are now managed by people who are not that much older than some of the more established players under their command.
There has been a subtle switch in emphasis with county boards prepared to give their backing to comparative youth rather than bow to more seasoned personnel.
The transformation — for that’s really what it is — has brought tangible rewards for a number of counties already and has persuaded them that they have taken the right decision in entrusting their futures into younger hands.
When James McCartan took over as Down boss in 2010, there were those who pooh-poohed the choice made by the county board, citing his relative inexperience.
But those people were singing a rather different tune a matter of months later when McCartan masterminded Down’s appearance in the All- Ireland final.
They may have lost that game by a point but Down showed their potential and ambition under a man who had only put away his boots for good a relatively short time prior to taking up the managerial reins.
Kieran McGeeney has steered Kildare into the quarter-finals of the All-Ireland championship on a regular basis in recent years and has also helped to make the team a force in the Leinster championship.
And Peter Canavan has certainly made an initial impact in Fermanagh by bringing the side into Division Three of the Allinaz League and nurturing the belief that further promotion in 2013 is not out of the question.
But by far the most successful new manager is Jim McGuinness. He took Donegal to the Ulster crown last year — their first since 1992 — and then this year not only saw his side retain their provincial honour but embellish it with the Sam Maguire Cup.
At 39, McGuinness looks to have a long career ahead of him in management and the hope is that the GAA will not lose him to another code — something that was thought possible just a couple of weeks ago when Liverpool and Celtic were reportedly hovering with intent.
If McGuinness has arrived in style in the managerial ranks, then Mayo’s James Horan, a fine player with the county up until recent years, has shown his mettle by planning back-to-back Connacht titles.
If he was disappointed by the manner in which his side conceded the All-Ireland crown this year, this will only serve to make Mayo more determined to triumph next year under his very capable command.
As 2013 approaches, it will be very interesting to assess how new managers such as Aidan O’Rourke (Louth), Eamon Fitzmaurice (Kerry), Malachy O’Rourke (Monaghan), Mick Dowd (Meath) and the more seasoned Justin McNulty (Laois) fare.
These are all former players, some of them having distinguished themselves by winning All-Ireland medals.
They bring into play unbridled enthusiasm, shrewd tactical planning and bubbly motivational skills which are designed to get the best out of the players under their command.
There will of course be a strong focus on how Eamon Fitzmaurice performs in Kerry since the demands of the job are much greater there than in other counties simply because of the tradition of success that has been fashioned down through the decades.
Fitzmaurice was a fine player in the best Kerry tradition and now that he has surrounded himself with a good backroom team he could emerge as a pivotal figure next year — indeed, he might enjoy a ration of beginners’ luck which has been the lot of Jim McGuinness and Peter Canavan.
Malachy O’Rourke |(pictured) will be expected to bring a glint of silverware to success-starved Monaghan, while Aidan O’Rourke has a particularly demanding task with Louth but knowing his dedication and commitment, I feel he will make headway.
Malachy has made a big impact at club management level in recent years and also helped Fermanagh to make significant progress before handing over to John O’Neill.
Now he steps into a breach left by Eamon McEnaney’s decision to stand down after two years, but Monaghan’s hunger for success will surely serve to keep him very much on his toes.
Aidan O’Rourke has made it quite clear that he has fulfilled his managerial ‘apprenticeship’ by having been No 2 to Kieran McGeeney in Kildare and holding a similar role with James McCartan in Down and now he feels the time is right to go it alone.
Louth hinted at progress under Peter Fitzpatrick but Aidan could have a tough job on his hands with the ‘Wee County’.
There is no doubt that an influx of new managers brings renewed colour and a sense of expectation to the provincial and All Ireland championships in particular.
None of the new managers will panic too much if their teams don’t happen to hit the ground running in January, but they will be very happy indeed if they are still running in a meaningful way come September.