MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: The backroom quantity must deliver quality for GAA managers

Davy Fitzgerald departed the intercounty scene last week, as you probably heard. Some of the Clare players had indicated their lack of confidence in the manager and within days he was gone.

Fitzgerald’s situation has both general application and specific issues.

The former? Once players put their heads above the parapet on a manager’s suitability it’s all over: if nothing else the slew of strikes and putsches and heaves we’ve seen tell us that.

Specifics? It’ll be interesting to see what Fitzgerald’s departure means for a modern-day phenomenon: the tendency of county backroom teams to grow and grow, like Topsy the rabbit.

We were told earlier this year that Fitzgerald could count on the expertise of over 30 people in his backroom with the Banner, for instance.

This may seem excessive, but it’s interesting that Clare had specific briefs for those people, including someone detailed for media liaison.

If the latter sounds excessive, consider that dealing with the media, while nobody’s idea of paradise on earth, is something that can easily fall between the cracks.

Selectors and county board officials can end up playing a game of ‘I thought that was your job’ after a game while the press bleat plaintively nearby . ..

Fair enough, I hear you saying ‘of course you’d say that’. Correct. But it’s a good example of the kind of job that management has to box off before a ball is struck: a former intercounty manager once opined to this columnist that everyone associated with a top team wants to be the one stroking their chin and pointing out the key game-winning move. However, he added that few people wanted the responsibility of locating somewhere to train at an hour’s notice when the original location is suddenly unavailable.

The usual realities apply in this context. Having a couple of dozen people milling around the team before a game might appeal to a manager’s ego, but unless there’s something being contributed by everyone who’s (literally) wearing the t-shirt, there’s no reason for them all to be there.

Which brings us to the real challenge, picking the right people to be around your team. This is far more difficult than first appears because the personalities which encourage and facilitate elite sportspeople differ according to those sportspeople’s personalities. The temptation is to address that challenge simply by having as many people in the dug-out, figuratively, as you have on the field: the justifications for the personnel can come later.

Clare under Davy Fitzgerald may have been at the top of the rankings in terms of personnel but they’re not alone. There were quite a few members of the Tipperary backroom team in a photograph taken after the All-Ireland hurling final out on the field in Croke Park, even if the total didn’t reach 30-plus. Other counties involved at the sharp end of the championship in both codes don’t lack numbers either.

Our earlier point stands, though. Having the right people in the first place comes before having the right number. If the quality on the sideline is correct, you could say that the quantity looks after itself.

Secrets of a ‘hot’ freetaker

In terms of the nooks and crannies of sport, or the highways and byways which lead slightly away from or parallel to the main thrust of sport, try Exponent, a consulting company operating out of Menlo Park in California.

They recently came to prominence as a result of a scientific document they produced which was “filled with equations, tables and graphs, linked by explanations of experimental methods and laws of physics,” said the New York Times, which added: “It was 68 pages, plus a six-page executive summary at the beginning and a nine-page appendix at the end.” The report was part of the NFL’s findings on the Deflategate controversy, which consumed American sport recently - allegations that the New England Patriots, NFL powerhouse, were deflating footballs slightly for their own advantage.

Exponent tested footballs for months at a secure facility in Phoenix to replicate conditions when said balls had been deflated in order to work out how deflated those balls were, and so on. I raise it here because a former intercounty free taker I chatted to recently confessed to bringing his own footballs to club games in the traditional large net bag - with hot water bottles among them, in the hope the heat transferring from the bottles to the balls would help them travel faster when he took the frees. I told him to expect a call from Palo Alto...

Hear no evil, see no evil in the tunnel

We’ve come a long way, haven’t we? There was a time when fighting before a championship game meant suspensions, but that era is now firmly in the rear view mirror: two teams can puck each other before a game now, and not a word about it.

John Casey of Mid West radio was in the tunnel area of Croke Park before the drawn All-Ireland football final and was quoted as follows afterwards: “I am not going to lie. I was scared down there. There were fellas going hammer and tongs at each other. Aidan O’Shea ploughed through the middle of the Dublin players. Cillian O’Connor up-scuttled and hit a few fellas.”

Now, pardon me for being a little bit awkward but it is not 10 years since the nation was supposedly scandalised by a similar event preceding a Munster hurling championship game in Thurles. You may remember this as Semplegate. Oddly enough, however, there is no apparent appetite to discuss, let alone investigate, what allegedly happened before the All-Ireland football final. I see no evidence of late-night disciplinary hearings or desperate dashes with appeals. No blasts from officialdom. Progress, Or Ignoregate?

A huddle worth joining

You know me. I love a good conference. Later this week Ronan O’Gara of this parish along with other impressive names from the sports world will appear at the Huddle Dublin conference.

Gary Neville, Noel Connors, Sophie Spence and Natalya Coyle are just some of the others presenting at the event, which is being held at the Aviva.

Sounds interesting: for more information on tickets and so on, log onto huddledublin.com


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