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Comment: How much pressure are GAA coaches under after early Ulster Championship exits?

By Declan Bogue

Last week, Offaly football manager Stephen Wallace was relieved of his duties by the county board.

Historically in Gaelic games, such a development in the middle of a Championship is extremely rare. There might be something about Offaly, mind.

In 1998, 'Babs' Keating left his post as county hurling manager after losing the Leinster final to Kilkenny, with the stinging insult of 'sheep in a heap'.

Just 10 weeks later, they were All-Ireland champions as Michael Bond stepped in and they beat Kilkenny in the decider.

With such an example, it is a source of wonder to these eyes why this doesn't happen more often in our sport.

There are strong reasons for this. Chiefly, consider the role of a county chairman in such a heave. These people are holding down jobs themselves and a mid-season managerial departure/sacking would bring on a media frenzy.

Any decent managers are already in jobs by mid-summer, some on the black market and highly lucrative club scene. Leaving such a post would poison their well for future ventures.

And what self-respecting manager would want to walk into a job like that anyway, the chance that it could be all over after one more defeat in the qualifiers?

Looking at the opening three games of the Ulster Championship, there is no question that the defeated managers so far are under varying degrees of pressure.

Cavan manager Mattie McGleenan brought his side up to Ballybofey, having leapfrogged opponents Donegal on the way into Division One.

In light of that, there were many in Cavan giving them a puncher's chance. Closer inspection of their league records show that Cavan beat Louth, Meath, Cork, Down and Tipperary. Donegal beat Kildare and drew with Mayo, but crucially ran Kerry and Galway to a point and produced a highly commendable performance against Dublin.

The benefits of playing in a higher league have always been evident.

With Cavan back in Division One next year, it really doesn't matter what happens from here on in, but for their development it would do them wonders to reach the Super-8s.

Despite getting a three-year contract extension at the end of last season, Mickey Harte's decision making has come into sharp focus.

Starting three players who were suffering from various degrees of injury meant that, by the time he was patching up the team, he had already used three substitutions, and a fourth when he elected to take off Ronan O'Neill, who had earlier replaced Mark Bradley.

What happened next was unprecedented. Replacing a substitute is the ultimate slap in the face for a player. Rather than meekly accept the decision, O'Neill challenged Harte there and then on the sideline, with eight minutes remaining and the Red Hands a point down.

Within the Tyrone squad, people who have challenged Harte privately have found themselves frozen out and eventually discarded. Now many are wondering whether O'Neill - who, remember, had the impudence and bravery to net two goals in last year's Ulster final - will ever kick a ball for his county again.

O'Neill's fate is a neat microcosm of Tyrone at present. He is a talented attacker who - like Kyle Coney a few years ago and even Darren McCurry, who dropped off the panel during the league - decided he had enough of county football.

All three have struggled to shine in the system Tyrone play. The question is, who has succeeded? And is it possible?

Despite all this, Tyrone should feature in some big games this summer.

And then we come to Armagh. Logic would dictate that Kieran McGeeney's future as manager must be in major doubt. However, it would appear that few county bosses on the island enjoy the backing afforded to McGeeney.

It is difficult to decide whether the situation is tragi-comedy or just plain farce.

When McGeeney was installed as manager in late 2014, he was granted a five-year arrangement, probably the longest of its type ever seen in Gaelic games.

Their meek surrender last Saturday against Fermanagh in Brewster Park means that he has yet to win an Ulster Championship match as Armagh manager after four attempts.

To set it into some context, since Armagh began entering the Ulster Championship regularly, they have had only two comparable periods.

They went from 1923 to '26 without a win, when the notion of Gaelic football was almost a passing fancy, a sideshow at a carnival, and likewise from 1966 to '71.

When McGeeney was Kildare manager, he also tasted defeat in Championship openers against minnows Wicklow in 2008 and Louth in 2010.

Where he has achieved some success is in purple patches through the backdoor system. That raises the question, do the team get better when the manager has less time to study the opposition and implement a game plan?

The difficulty with long-termism is that patience is finite.

Belfast Telegraph

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