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A coach's strength is in his backroom additions

Top condition: Ryan Porter
Top condition: Ryan Porter
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Who are the most sought-after figures in the GAA?

Team managers? Ten a penny. Virtually every player who enjoyed a successful playing career will always be in demand to manage a team, even though the skill sets for the two roles are vastly different - we call this 'The Roy Keane Effect.'

No. The most desirable cross-section of people within the GAA at present are Strength and Conditioning coaches, and coaches who can produce stimulating sessions with an overall purpose in mind. And August to October is prime hunting season for these prized assets.

Right now in Ulster, the Fermanagh, Monaghan and Derry management posts lie vacant. Names are thrown around as to who might take over as manager, but that conversation is passé.

The first enquiry to any prospective manager is who would he be bringing along with him. This is where things get awkward. The truth is, you couldn't talk to your dog about this without sweating that it wouldn't be leaked and eventually make its way into the papers.

At times, the process can be mortifying for coaches.

For example, Aidan O'Rourke was the preferred option for the Roscommon job last winter and was about to be ratified by the county board until he withdrew from the process over concerns about Karl Lacey's availability as coach.

Lacey later stayed with Donegal, but the episode shows how things can blow up in your face.

Only last Sunday, we got an insight into Tipperary's smarts in getting in former Arsenal Academy S&C coach Cairbre Ó Cairealláin as a full-time appointment. Liam MacCarthy may have been won, but he would take a week or so off before starting his planning for 2020.

In the post-match interview, the outrageously-talented John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer was asked about the impact of the return of manager Liam Sheedy, who delivered an All-Ireland at the first time of asking in his second spell.

"Just Liam returning is no good," said O'Dwyer to raised eyebrows.

"He's only as good as his backroom team. He came back with a backroom team that was different class. He got the people he wanted, and without them Liam was no good, and he would tell you that himself.

"Just the whole professionalism and the way they go about their business. Our S&C, our nutritionists, our coaches, everything that you look for is given to you on a plate, so there is no stone left unturned and we got our just rewards at the end of the day."

What Tipperary have is replicated across all the top teams in Gaelic football and hurling.

Dublin footballers managed to secure the services of former 2011 All-Ireland winning captain Bryan Cullen from Leinster Rugby to look after their S&C, and their coaching ticket includes Jason Sherlock, Declan Darcy and Paul Clarke.

They face Kerry in the final and while Peter Keane was a popular choice as manager, his back-up team couldn't be any more respected. You have Tommy Griffin, who has earned his stripes as a coach after a decorated playing career, and then Maurice Fitzgerald who is something of a God, both as selectors.

They have Donie Buckley - the Kerryman who made Mayo such a formidable force over the last several years, in as a coach. Significantly, they also appointed Armagh man Jason McGahan as 'Head of Athletic Development,' which is a catch-all term for S&C.

For those counties looking to catch up, it is a difficult process. There are only a finite number of S&C coaches, such as Lukasz Kirszenstein (above) who was with Tipperary for their 2016 All-Ireland win, switching to Galway for 2017 when they won their first title in 29 years.

Those prospective managers looking at the Monaghan, Derry and Fermanagh jobs will have fished in the shallow local waters. As prized as S&C coaches and the 'balls and bibs' type coaches are, the mother lode is when you have coaches who can combine the two.

Such examples - those that understand and can deliver a training drill, breaking into a timed sprint - are few and far between.

Two of these are Tyrone men, however Peter Donnelly is leaving the Red Hands set up for an Academy position with Ulster Rugby.

His loss cannot be underestimated and it severely weakens the hand of manager Mickey Harte as he goes into the last year of his current arrangement in 2020.

A ready-made replacement is Ryan Porter, who fulfilled such a role for Monaghan under Malachy O'Rourke.

Porter is a Tyrone man, but there is a sense that he may hold off taking another job and stay loyal to O'Rourke, spending a season out of the game and refreshing themselves before they go again.

Can Tyrone secure his services? Or can they afford not to?

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph