MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Management sagas always play out on side of players

Oh, the heart sank with the news coming out of the west, or the northwest, last week.

Players meeting. No confidence. Officials surprised.

On the day that word came from Mayo that managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes had lost the dressing-room, yours truly had a sandwich with someone who’d soldiered similar situations on Leeside.

He had no doubt about their next step.

“If I could pick up the phone to those two lads in Mayo I’d tell them resign. Now.”

As it happens, Holmes and Connelly applied common sense and stepped down in short order.

When did GAA intercounty management become so difficult? A quick glance at the teams which have had issues appointing or retaining managers in the last decade or so would run to Cork, Waterford, Limerick, Clare, Mayo, Offaly, Wexford, Donegal . . . if one went back beyond that decade cut-off, deeper into history, other counties would soon join that list. (If you clock the absence of the two counties topping the roll of honour and nod sagely, consider the departure of Páidí Ó Sé from Kerry, and - if you can remember that far back - the travails of the couple of men who preceded Brian Cody in Kilkenny.) Despite the versions of pastoral idyll peddled by the misguided and the mischievous, player power, to use a misleading phrase, has always ruled in the GAA. If the men who wear the jerseys want to get rid of a manager they’ve always had the power to do so, and they’ve rarely been shy about using that power.

The dreaded pronouncement that ‘players play and managers manage’ wasn’t slow in emerging last week regarding the Mayo issue, but if that cliche ever had any truth to it - that day is long gone.

Whether you regard intercounty players as indulged and impossible to please, or dedicated athletes trying to maximise their potential hardly matters. The men in the arena are the only ones whose opinions count.

It wasn’t two decades ago that an All-Ireland-winning captain went to a team’s physical trainer looking for variety in the sessions, and was told that if he wanted variety to try changing women; if that message were delivered without an accompanying smile nowadays the trainer could expect to pack his cones in the car, never to return.

I mention the physical trainer role because that has become so significant in the last decade or two, as the strength and conditioning culture becomes more widely accepted within the GAA. The appointment of Cian O’Neill, who has prepared teams to win All-Irelands in football and hurling, as Kildare football manager over the weekend reinforces that point.

The first question usually posed of a manager - in either code - ahead of appointment these days is about the package he’s bringing in with him, and the physical trainer is the key man in that group.

You could almost make the argument that county boards would be better advised to appoint a good strength and conditioning coach and then empower him to pick front-of-house man for management duties.

Cork’s ladies deserve better

Management sagas always play out on side of players

One of my only rules of sportswriting is not to comment on whether people actually attend sports events.

It’s a little rich, to this observer, for people who are paid to attend sports events to criticise those who have to fork out to do so when they don’t turn up. Granted, I have been at some sports events which I would have paid hard cash to escape from, but that’s beside the point. Still, the crowd which turned out for the Cork ladies football team at its homecoming last Monday was a disappointing one.

Here you have a side which has established the kind of reputation which, if this were America, would be the subject of a multi-episode documentary series on ESPN.

I’m well aware that people are busy and have no shortage of commitments, but this is the kind of team, more than most, that you’ll miss when they’re gone.

Character coaches are a dying breed

I’m hugely disappointed in the Rugby World Cup so far. Not so much in the quality of play, or the commentary, or the lack of individuals. Among the managers, that is.

The first international sports tournament which I took any notice of, really, was the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, which we watched goggle-eyed because of the ticker-tape welcome afforded the hosts. Their manager, Cesar Luis Menotti, was a chain-smoker whose lank brown hair gave him the look of a sociology lecturer (and in real life he turned out to be an articulate socialist).

There have been personalities to be seen in many of the tournaments since, but 2015 is not proving a vintage year. Yes, you have the mournful Kiwis, Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen, there is the stolid Stuart Lancaster watching his dreams circle the plughole, and Michael Cheika barking out his platitudes. Even Joe Schmidt can talk press conferences for hours at a time, that toothy grin never quite reaching the corners of his eyes.

So far the leader in a poor field has been Eddie Jones, whose years provoking Clive Woodward were good preparation for celebrating his Japan side’s win over South Africa. He always looks like a happy elf, Eddie Jones; I’m just sorry we haven’t seen more of him.

Another dispatch from the oval office

Little wonder that rugby is dominating this week’s viewing, but it’s not all about the games.

Next Friday (10.30pm) TV3 will air Rugby’s Wheelchair Challenge on the eve of the France match, a documentary which aims to raise awareness about disability accessibility by challenging well-known rugby stars to experience life in a wheelchair.

Jamie Heaslip and Felix Jones participated in the show, alongside former rugby stars Shane Byrne and David Wallace.

Not so heart-warming, a different documentary airs this evening on RTÉ One (9.35pm). Hidden Impact: Rugby and Concussion investigates the troubling issue of concussion in rugby, and features contributions from Irish Examiner columnist Ronan O’Gara, Johnny Sexton, Conor O’Shea and others who have been affected by concussion as well as the doctors trying to tackle the problem.

This programme seeks answers to the problem but also analyses the old rugby culture of playing on regardless, comparing that to the present regime in which, as O’Gara says, the doctor is the one with all the power.


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