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Players have found their voice and are speaking out against their managers

By Declan Bogue

Published 07/10/2015

Strife of Brians: The former managers of Armagh, Brian McAlinden and Brian Canavan found life difficult with the Orchard County
Strife of Brians: The former managers of Armagh, Brian McAlinden and Brian Canavan found life difficult with the Orchard County

When you read and listen to influential opinion-formers in the GAA over an extended period of years, you recognise their default position.

Eugene McGee has nothing to prove about his own managerial credentials, but he has a problem with players not accepting the ultimate authority of a county board.

When it comes to the Mayo footballers and the overthrowing of their management team of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, he is typically scathing. He wrote: "Here we have an unelected body of GAA people undermining the authority of the Mayo county board by ousting their managers.

"And to add insult to injury, they did not apparently have the courtesy to inform the managers, the county board, nor the Mayo GAA supporters of the reasons for their behaviour."

He goes on to comprehensively criticise the Mayo players for not explaining themselves, but it's difficult to see how speaking out publicly would help the situation.

Holmes and Connelly would be mortified if the complaints were made public, so perhaps there is a certain dignity in silence.

But it is instructive to listen to what McGee says because he represents a certain demographic of 'Middle Ireland GAA man'. In that regard, Mayo have possibly lost some sympathy for their plight.

And yet it depends on who you listen to.

James Horan, the previous manager, was in the bubble for four years. He wrote: "These guys are looking everywhere for anything, any fine margins that will support their constant drive for improvement. Sometimes there are consequences to this relentlessness that are not always positive for everyone."

As someone you imagine would have been in touch with a few of the players since the news broke, Horan is a man to listen to.

Moving on. After downing tools for almost a fortnight in late 2002, the Cork hurlers were equipped with a management team they could believe in. They then played in the next four All-Ireland finals, winning two of them.

Take it back a few years before that, and a more local example in Armagh. The two Brians, McAlinden and Canavan, brought the Orchard County to their first Ulster title in 17 years in 1999. They followed it up a year later.

While players felt that they were being left behind tactically, they chose not to 'work to rule', but establish their own managerial cell, devising and implementing their own tactical approach until Joe Kernan took over and won Sam Maguire in his first year.

It is safe to say that more and more inter-county players now go on to third-level education than ever before, given the range of courses and opportunities available to talented footballers and hurlers.

At university, they are exposed to lecturers and fellows who communicate professionally and soak up the wisdom of cutting-edge coaches at third-level. That experience, along with the demands of the modern-day game on their lifestyle, gives county players a certain integrity.

Finally, as uncomfortable as it is for many who treasure the amateur ethos, in this game, money matters. During the strikes in Cork and Limerick hurling when management dug in and effectively fielded a second string, performances dipped drastically.

Mayo are €10million in debt after the redevelopment of McHale Park, with the repayments restructured last February from €50,000 a month to €33,000. In short, they need the crowds to continue coming to Castlebar.

This is the point where bottom-line economics meets bottom-line ambitions. Anything else is just delusion.

Belfast Telegraph

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