A few months before Bryan Cullen would become the first Dublin man in 16 years to lift Sam Maguire, the then director of football operations at Chelsea, Mike Forde, spoke at a conference in Liverpool about a bit of a continuing professional development tour he took in on Stateside.
One of the people he spent some time with was Billy Beane of Moneyball fame. Forde mentioned to the Oakland A’s general manager he would be also meeting up with the Boston Red Sox.
A few years earlier, the Red Sox had offered Beane what would have been a record salary for anyone working in a front office position in US sport.
Beane had declined, choosing instead to stick with the lowly- resourced though creative A’s, but the Red Sox would still study and adopt much of his methodology to help them land the franchise’s first World Series title in 86 years, and a further two subsequently.
“Ah, the Red Sox,” Beane sighed and smiled. “The worst evil.” Ford asked what he meant.
In nearly all cases, a sports organisation either has intelligence or is it has money, Beane explained.
Hardly ever both. Those guys in Boston had both.
Stay in America for a moment. New York is the biggest basketball city in the world and yet its NBA franchise, the Knicks, hasn’t won a world championship since 1973, and had only two winning seasons (that is, won more games than they’ve lost) in the last 15 years.
They’ve been a case study in mismanagement. Meanwhile, a so-called ‘small market’ franchise like the San Antonio Spurs are pursuing a sixth world title in 17 years.
They won’t splash out on the luxury tax like others might to offset the sport’s salary cap, but they’re a model of stability and sense. Smart.
Forde’s goal was to make Chelsea a worst evil but they continuously lack the patience to become it, especially since he departed 15 months ago.
Manchester United have mishandled the succession of not just Alex Ferguson but David Gill, Ed Woodward seeming to have more money than sense.
Real Madrid under the presidency of Florentino Perez will never be a worst evil. Barcelona, in contrast, are.
In Gaelic Games, the current residency of Sam Maguire and Liam MacCarthy is no accident.
In football and hurling, Dublin and Kilkenny represent your worst evil.
For sure Dublin have considerable financial wealth, but let’s remember for decades Cork had more financial muscle and chose not to flex it, until deciding to expend most of what’s in the coffers on the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
Imagine 10 years ago, as the Cork hurlers were aiming for a third All-Ireland title in a row, if the Cork executive had chosen to further capitalise on the county’s competitive advantage, and created the position of a commercial manager to be filled by a recently- retired player from the class of ’99.
Or a full-time high performance position, again occupied by someone with the appropriate qualification who had been involved in recent All-Ireland successes; in Cork’s case, say PE guru and team trainer, Sean McGrath.
That’s pretty much what Dublin have done with the respective appointments of Tomas Quinn and Bryan Cullen.
In John Costello, they have a county secretary who does understand high performance better than Dónal Óg Cusack does the sleeping patterns of the Ayatollah. More so, Costello is enough of a high performer himself to know what he doesn’t know about it.
Contrary to what has been reported, Cullen will not be a high performance director.
That title suggests a level of executive control and power into appointing team managers and coaches similar to what the performance director of a national governing body, like say, Peter Banks of Swim Ireland wields.
Instead, his title is that of a high performance manager; his remit, as the press release states, to develop “a player pathway from juvenile to senior level for county players, as well as taking a lead role in the strength and conditioning of all [Dublin] county teams”.
In other words, he’ll be coordinating and managing talent. That a player isn’t squeezed for short-term gain or in between two to six managers in a tug o’war.
The bigger picture, the long term, with the player at the centre of it, will be the focus. It’s not just a S&C appointment or even a high performance one, as much as a player-centred one.
For now, his priority will be establishing himself as the head trainer of the senior football team, replacing the highly-respected and successful Martin Kennedy, who has joined the IRFU academy.
Cullen took his first session with them last night. But in the months and years ahead, his range will extend.
Other county boards will have to think differently now. Bigger. Again, it’s a case of mindset and ambition, less resources as resourcefulness.
We’ve said it before here – the high -performance unit on the South Circular Road started with Billy Walsh’s boxers sleeping in the ring in their sleeping bags because they couldn’t afford B&Bs.
You’ll find over the next decade more GAA counties and their boards tapping into the qualifications of our thousands of young people coming out of our colleges with all their sports courses.
Instead of being threatened by their knowledge – as even too many commentators, let alone officials are – there needs to be an appreciation that the reason why young people fork out so much on their education and want to explore the sports sciences is because they have such a passion about sport and Gaelic Games; they want to improve in it and improve it too.
Progressive county boards will start having such personnel interview and identify potential county managers, from underage squad right up to senior.
There will be performance committees, with either paid or unpaid exert personnel ensuring talent is managed and maximised, not continuously treated flippantly, like a piece of disposable meat.
The day of appointing a county manager because as a county chairman you were a great man to sell lottery tickets or pull a stroke or favour over fixtures even be able to read a financial sheet are dwindling; more important that you can read a training log if you’re to earn the right as to who wears that bainisteoir bib.
Otherwise, you’re in the wrong game, and your teams will continue to be steamrolled by those trained by Cullen, and overseen by Costello, the worst evil.
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