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Declan Bogue: Managers are right to have their say

By Declan Bogue

Perhaps it is a new development, another way for RTÉ to get added value out of their stable of pundits during the league. Either way, the post-match tete-a-tete on the radio broadcast of Sunday Sport between Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher and Colm O'Rourke was interesting.

It wasn't a vintage day for the home side in snatching a 0-8 to 1-5 draw against Cork and they didn't manage a score from play in the entire first half.

Further examination, though, threw up some puzzling stats. They hit 10 wides and dropped the ball short to Cork goalkeeper Mark White four times. If their conversion rate had have been even 50%, they would have won fairly comfortably.

Anyway, O'Rourke's line of questioning was pretty direct as he asked: "I just wanted to ask you (Gallagher), you have been heavily criticised for your ultra-defensive style of football, are you going to change this year or do you think that this is the best way of getting it out of your players?"

Gallagher answered diplomatically, citing their scoring statistics in Division Three the previous year and where he felt his team's strengths lay. He also mentioned in passing that the county team at minor and Under-21 level didn't have much success.

"We have a lot of lads who want to be as good as they can and we are not ashamed at being good at defending, generally we are good at defending and we want to become better at attacking," was the gist.

"What about the enjoyment of the players, do you think they would enjoy it more if they were given the freedom to attack?" pressed O'Rourke.

Gallagher replied: "When I was growing up from 1983 to 1999, Fermanagh won two Championship games - both against Antrim, who were ranked lower, and there wasn't a lot of enjoyment in it.

"When I took over, the lads had only won against one team in Ulster, that was Antrim as well, over a seven-year period. We enjoy getting the most out of ourselves."

It was big of Gallagher to talk to O'Rourke at all. A few weeks ago the Fermanagh coach spoke to reporters and gave clear reasons as to why the hand-pass restriction under trial was a disaster and would lead to a diminishing return of goals.

The statistics proved Gallagher right, with the McKenna Cup averaging a goal fewer every two games.

Still, O'Rourke complained about Gallagher and Turlough O'Brien voicing their opinions, stating in his newspaper column: "Now maybe I'm a bit like Rip van Winkle and have woken up after a long period of sleep, but I find it very difficult to remember these wonderful moves from Fermanagh and Carlow over the last few years which ended up with great goals. My memory of these teams playing is of continuous hand-passing alright, but most of it going either backwards or sideways."

A bit sneery. Snide. There seems to be a lot of this at the moment - high-profile pundits decreeing that managers should say nothing and not offer their opinion when asked.

Actually, come to think of it, some journalists themselves have been inflicted with this. In the debate about the rules trialled over the pre-season competitions, one enthusiastic backer of the experiment described the negative feedback as 'collusion' between managers and journalists, and 'propaganda' the next week.

Eugene McGee, the 1982 All-Ireland-winning manager, said in a recent interview: "When I was involved in football, I'd make contact with another team for a challenge or something and it would be the chairman or the secretary of the county board (I'd call) - now, I don't know any chairman or secretary, you go to the manager and he'll decide.

"The managers have absolutely complete control of every player. It's an absolute disgrace."

How come the inter-county manager has become a reviled figure? Indeed, why are they even lumped into the same group as if they have identical personalities and values?

It's a thought that appears to be spreading, caused by the natural split in the two different types of the GAA. There is the GAA of officialdom and the GAA of playing and coaching. Both are dependent on each other but they don't always exist in harmony.

At a most basic element you have officials who, while they may have a playing career behind them, gravitate towards officialdom and have little to no coaching experience. Yet when it comes to big decisions, they are charged with making them on behalf of their county.

Nothing gets up the nose of an experienced administrator like being told the county manager is running the show. There is no nose long enough that wouldn't survive the blade to spite the face. Although the majority have no knowledge of performance sport, they are technically in charge. That's why the vote was so close two weekends ago.

In any case, the notion that pundits or journalists would be incensed by coaches or players offering their opinion on the important issues affecting the game is so ludicrous as to be laughable.

If managers and players do as they wish and stop talking, then all we are left with is 'The Marty Squad' and 'Up For The Match' yahoos and yokels bellowing down a microphone about how much they love their county.

Belfast Telegraph

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