Belfast Telegraph

Sports Awards

Home Sport GAA

Declan Bogue: Replacing Mickey Moran's old magic will be a huge task for Slaughtneil

By Declan Bogue

One moment out of the many examples of how Mickey Moran and John Joe Kearney revolutionised Slaughtneil over their four and a bit years in charge stood out in the recent Ulster club campaign.

During the warm-up for their preliminary round win over Kilcoo, selector Willie Hampson kept an eye on the Down side going through their drills. He noticed that Darragh O'Hanlon practised a few penalties, drilling them to the goalkeeper's right.

When Kilcoo won a penalty at a crucial stage in the game, Hampson got the message to Slaughtneil goalkeeper Antoin McMullan. The penalty was struck to McMullan's right and he got a strong enough hand to knock it out for a '45'.

It was everything that the management team had preached to the players - simplicity, observation, execution.

Last week, after Moran and Kearney informed the Slaughtneil committee of their intention to finish up as the senior management, a post they had held from 2013 and which yielded four Derry county and three Ulster club titles, they were left in a bind.

It has left the committee in an unenviable position. Their first game is a local derby against Glen on April 4. By this stage, it would appear that every single club in Ulster have their management in place, apart from All-Ireland club champions Moy, whose manager Audi Kelly left this week, which has led some to link him with the vacant position in south Derry, but this is highly unlikely.

Whoever takes on Slaughtneil faces an incredible task.

For a start, there is a delicate eco-system within the club that dictates that football and hurling has to be held in the same regard. It was, according to former chairman Sean McGuigan, one of the fundamental principles that Moran had to sign up to. And from various conversations with hurling manager Michael McShane, Moran couldn't have been better in this regard.

The next step for Slaughtneil is crucial.

Moran was an outsider, from the Glen. Only a few miles down the road, but an outsider nonetheless.

He transformed the club from one that routinely suffered lapses of discipline into an organised footballing machine, their one red card in Championship football cruelly coming in the All-Ireland final almost a year ago and possibly costing them the game.

His time in Slaughtneil has brought the kind of legacy that his coaching abilities have long deserved and not always received.

Perhaps his greatest skill lies in how he treats people.

While manager of UUJ, Conan Doherty, a club player with Steelstown in Derry city, trained as part of his fresher's panel.

"Even when you weren't making the team and you weren't part of his plans for the Sigerson Cup, everybody probably felt that same sort of connection that they were being looked after by him," he said.

That kind of fatherly approach brought on players such as Brian Cassidy, whose first meaningful Championship action came as a substitute for Cormac O'Doherty in the Ulster semi against Kilcar, and he contributed two vital points before having a fine game as a starter in the final.

Moran was well supported by John Joe Kearney, who fulfilled all media duties and has an impressive CV himself, winning an All-Ireland minor medal in 1965, an Under-21 in 1968, before managing Derry minors to the 1989 All-Ireland title, with Willie Hampson as a selector.

As for Slaughtneil, they have a huge appointment to make.

It is difficult to think of an inside man that could take it.

Even stretching back to their only other Derry Championship in 2004 and further, they have had Damian Barton (Newbridge), John Brennan (Lavey), Tiffy Quinn (Errigal Ciaran), Eugene Kelly (Dungiven), John Rafferty (Poyntzpass), Dermot McNicholl (Glenullin), Cathal Corey (Kildress) and Moran (Glen) all as outside managers.

Round the turn of the century was the last time an inside management was in place - Pat 'Tad' Cassidy, Christopher McGuigan and Bernard Cassidy.

The predicament now is to scratch their heads and wonder who is big enough for the role. They have a core leadership group of Chrissy McKaigue, Patsy Bradley and Paul Bradley. The worst thing they could do is bring in a figure that could upset the balance, such as, say, a Brian Clough during his ill-fated spell in charge of Leeds United.

Perhaps an inside management, with a light-touch approach could work. Make a club stalwart such as Padrig 'Togger' Kelly manager, and convince Kearney to stay on for a year to ease the transition.

But be under no doubt, it would be the hardest job in club football.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph