KIERAN SHANNON: Distrust of management must be ended

One of the healthiest things about the GAA is everyone is free to give out about it. Even — especially — its own.

There’s hardly a day that goes by where you pick up a paper and there’s some official or manager or former player being critical of something: the timing of a fixture, the relevance or downplaying of a competition, a certain regulation or rule, the brigade up in Croke Park.

For the most part, those on the receiving end take it on the chin. They understand it’s part of the game, often for the better of the game, that a lot of the time there’s a grain of truth — and a solution — in the complaint.

Observing the papers and airwaves in recent days though, you wonder does there need to be so much complaining, so much cause for crankiness.

Martin Fogarty’s statement published in this paper yesterday may well have been the tipping point in the whole sideline regulation saga. Already we’ve had managers and team doctors and physios raise their objections but when someone like the Kilkenny selector takes the initiative to make such a vehement and passionate statement the GAA can’t just dismiss it as a vested interest.

It was that of a mentor sick of mentors being inherently distrusted and not adequately consulted by officialdom, especially during Liam O’Neill’s presidency.

Fogarty is right. The current sideline regulations, while well-intentioned, are seriously flawed to the point of doing more harm than good.

As the Kilkenny selector pointed out, Gaelic games is not rugby. In rugby you don’t move a hooker to out-half, it doesn’t involve as many in-game adjustments. Why is rugby the model, unlike say, American football with its army of big men and assistant coaches taking up the line? In virtually all stadia outside Croke Park there is none of those glassed-off booths you see Declan Kidney reside.

As Fogarty points out, it is extremely difficult now for a selector to discuss team issues —“Take off Johnny, to feck; he’s cat” — when you’re sitting among the subs or spectators. Your manager on the line mightn’t be able to hear you with the noise on the sideline. The walkie-talkie might not even be working. If you stand just behind the manager, you’re blocking some spectator’s view. If you’re higher up the stand, the more often you’ve to negotiate steps.

I work with various teams and their selectors and find it both laughable as well as an insult to these measured, upstanding men that they are not to be trusted to behave on the line. More than once watching the inconveniences they now have to go to I’ve made the remark “And all because Liam O’Neill thinks you might start a fight!...”

What happened in games such as Derrytresk-Dromid and the Clare county minor final in October were inexcusable and the GAA have rightly realised such incidents could turn people off their games. But the constant insidious distrust of mentors could also have the effect of turning off people who are already in the GAA. It’s getting wearisome, the constant innuendo that backroom teams being over-sized when those backroom teams are facilitating players being medically, physically and mentally fit to take to the field; the constant inference and assumption that counties like “Kieran McGeeney’s Kildare” are spending too much when in McGeeney’s time they’ve routinely and regularly generated millions for Leinster and Central Council while their own board get a scandalously-low percentage of the gate.

Fogarty was right in claiming O’Neill’s latest outburst on managers was “outrageous”. These are mostly family men and volunteers under enough pressure as it is without the association’s president smearing them all as being overly-powerful. About a decade ago there were too many managers dictating to county boards when club games should be played and held up, all trying to ape Loughnane. Now that officials have seen the long-term effects and are more familiar with the qualifiers, they’re not as easily pushed around. Occasionally managers will dictate, like Jim McGuinness did last year, but that was because he recognised it was an exceptional opportunity.

It is refreshing to have such a free-speaking and deep-thinking president as O’Neill in office but there is an overriding sense that he is a tad too firmly rooted in the last decade, with his experience as a Laois board officer when the county’s fixtures and finances were at the mercy of an outside manager’s whim; when journalists used to moan about Justin McCarthy’s “dummy teams” when every one of his championship selections lined out as named, just not as they were positioned in the programme. The “dummy teams” issue is a media — and now a presidential — over-reaction, especially at this time of year when most management teams don’t know until very late in the week who isn’t injured from Sigerson. The role of the manager isn’t overplayed. The idea of the cult of the manager is – and the apparent threat he is to the games.

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