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The power IS with the man in charge

Joe Kernan

There are few roles in Irish sport which elicit quite the same levels of pressure and expectation as those which accompany that of a county team boss.

What was initially viewed as a part-time recreational pursuit when individual managers rather than selection committees became the norm within the GAA has today morphed into a 24/7 high-intensity post that can bring success, disappointment, abuse and controversy in almost equal measure.

Managers, it would seem, are rarely out of the limelight. Several current inter-county bosses such as Kieran McGeeney (Kildare), Justin McNulty (Laois), Eamon Fitzmaurice (Kerry), Aidan O'Rourke (Louth), James McCartan (Down) and Peter Canavan (Fermanagh) are former players who probably endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune before they donned their managers' bibs.

Yet this does not serve to insulate them from the criticisms and complaints to which they are subjected by officials, players and fans in the course of undertaking their duties.

A county boss can normally have no fewer than 45 people under his command when selectors, physiotherapists, statisticians, dieticians, doctors, masseurs and other ancillary personnel are taken into the equation. This being the case a manager can find himself becoming something of a financial consultant, psychologist, counsellor or career advisor as the situation demands.

Given the heavy work-load that most managers shoulder, it is disappointing to discover that GAA president Liam O'Neill believes that county team bosses can wield too much authority and have too much power.

He accuses managers of putting 'dummy' teams into the public domain with a view to discomfiting opposition bosses – and this is something on which I wholeheartedly agree with him. It is not fair to the manager's team, their supporters and indeed the opposing supporters all of whom pay good money to watch games.

It is a trend that has become more pronounced in recent years but it is not good practice and I think that managers should refrain from this.

On occasions, injuries and unavailability can mean that managers must change the line-up which they initially submitted to the match programme printers but this should be the exception rather than the rule.

The president goes on to allude that sidelines and dug-outs have become far too populated in his view but here is where we must agree to disagree.

In my opinion, one county board officer, the manager and normally two selectors, the doctor and a physiotherapist should be permitted in the dug-out area with of course two water-carriers stationed on the touchline along with a 'runner'.

I believe it is essential for a manager and his selectors to have privacy and space in which to discuss tactical matters, personnel changes and other issues and the only area which affords this facility is the touchline.

For selectors seated in the stand to be trying to maintain telephone contact with the manager on the sideline while they are surrounded by animated, boisterous fans of whatever persuasion is not conducive to good communication.

Nor is it feasible for managers and selectors to be discussing team matters in front of substitutes in the dug-out.

Indeed, the GAA might yet be obliged to take a lead from rugby and provide a segregated, enclosed area in the stand where selectors and statisticians can pour over the finer detail of games unhindered by external forces.

While managers invariably find themselves in the eye of a storm, they nevertheless strive to do the very best for the counties which they serve.

And the better the relationship between the manager and his county board, then the better the chances are that success might come along.

I spent 16 years as a team manager, nine with Crossmaglen Rangers and six with Armagh, and I can state categorically that it was a pressure-cooker existence – but I loved every minute of it.

I always made sure that decisions were made on a collective basis and communication was maintained at all times.

Managers thrive in the atmosphere of a bubbly dressing-room, they generally enjoy banter with the fans and they are invariably prepared to do their bit in terms of fund-raising in tandem with the 100 and one other duties that they are expected to undertake as part of their overall brief.

If Liam O'Neill believes managers have too much power, then he will surely admit that they require to have a certain amount of authority in order to fulfil their brief properly.

Managers indeed must have control – after all, the buck stops with them.

If a team is under-performing, the manager will almost certainly be the prime target of the fans' ire.

Liam O'Neill is entitled to his viewpoint in relation to the power wielded by managers but I would have thought that there should have been prior consultation with at least representatives of county team bosses before the sideline numerical issue was tackled and a new edict implemented.

When proper discussions take place with all involved, problems can be solved in a more benign atmosphere.

Belfast Telegraph


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