MIKE QUIRKE: Success on the field is underpinned by strong foundations off it

Former Offaly football manager Stephen Wallace has expressed his bemusement at being sacked.

It’s still difficult to wrap your head around the tumultuous goings on in Offaly last week, following their defeat to Wicklow in the Leinster football championship.

The pictures of their now former manager, Stephen Wallace, with a hoodie over his head, as he sat alone at the back of the stand, were like something out of a bad spy movie.

Wallace was serving a suspension for an incident in a club championship game in Kerry, and was incognito as he relayed messages through a walkie-talkie from his position on high.

The stories that emerged after their extra-time defeat had the whole GAA country talking.

There were all sorts of allegations: War at half-time in the dressing room and claims that one player was so pissed off that he bolted from the ground and headed for his car.

After the defeat, current players were ‘liking’ tweets that were critical of their manager, while even former players were calling for change.

Former Offaly manager Stephen Wallace.
Former Offaly manager Stephen Wallace.

Wallace had lost the dressing room, apparently; the players didn’t want to play for him anymore. Following a meeting of the county executive, he was relieved of his duties as manager of the county.

And like every bad break-up, the jilted party is determined to put out their side of the story.

I have no clue what went down in Offaly. I know nothing about how good, bad, or indifferent Stephen Wallace was with his players or the county board.

But I did find it strange that it was former hurling referee and Offaly native, Brian Gavin, who was at the epicentre of the drama. He seemed determined to set the Offaly management ablaze, with his comments on local and national radio, during and after the game.

It might be different in Offaly, but down here, nobody outside the Kerry camp has any great knowledge of what is going on inside there.

People don’t even bother asking anymore. I was fascinated that Gavin had such a wealth of information and ammunition about the county set-up, and boy did he unload it like a Gatling gun.

Brian Gavin.
Brian Gavin.

Despite some shape of a players’ statement, issued by most of the panel, along with other individuals coming out appearing to blow Gavin’s claims out of the water, the damage was done. Wallace was a dead man walking.

If Gavin’s assertions were as unfounded as they now appear to be, it’s bewildering that one man’s comments would gain such traction and propel the Offaly county board into making a change.

Now, I’m sure the suspension hanging over Wallace’s head didn’t help his cause and, after the extra-time defeat, the county board had enough.

But, like most tragic love stories, there was probably wrong on both sides to create the kind of situation that made the Offaly administration feel like they had no choice but to take the nuclear option and replace their management team in the middle of May.

For me, though, it highlights the importance and value of good administration within counties.

Spreading the wealth more evenly around every county is not the quick-fix solution to raising the standards of the game and reducing the inequality within the football championship. It’s got to be more about the people.

There is an urgent need for counties to improve administration to make the most of what they have, and to be clever enough to develop a vision for the future, along with the strategy to be able to deliver on it.

If even half of the claims made by a disgruntled Wallace are accurate about the issues in looking after players, then Offaly could get all the funding in the world and it wouldn’t make a difference to their football.

GAA Podcast: Limerick deliver, Tipp suffer in silence and the Ulster classic nobody saw

Take Limerick as another case in point. It wasn’t all that long ago that they were the third-best team in Munster, behind Kerry and Cork. With a bit of luck, they could have claimed a Munster title between 2004 and 2010.

Now, they find themselves languishing in Division 4 of the national league and have fallen well behind the rest of the province, with the exception of Waterford.

Similar dual counties, Tipperary and Clare, are maximising their footballing talent and have far surpassed all reasonable expectations in recent years.

Following their defeat on Saturday evening, Limerick’s manager, Billy Lee, couldn’t bottle his frustration towards administrators.

Limerick Manager Billy Lee.
Limerick Manager Billy Lee.

He spoke of players travelling from all around the country last week for training, but with no food organised for them afterwards (something the county board has since rejected).

It might seem like only a small thing, but those details are critical for a management team trying to do things correctly and make playing with Limerick an attractive proposition again.

One player wasn’t even registered to play last weekend on the official list that went to Croke Park and Lee was disgusted.

Again, if there was an abundance of games development funding thrown at Limerick in the next five years, would it bridge the gap and help to make them a relevant Gaelic football force in Munster again?

I’d have my doubts, given the light that Billy Lee has just shone on how they do their business.

It shouldn’t be a surprise as to why the likes of Dublin, Kerry, and Kilkenny are consistently towards the top end of the GAA food chain.

Managers, coaches, and players can come and go, but the people who run these counties are the ones most responsible for creating the structures and processes necessary to develop something sustainable within the county, long after they’ve left their position.

Offaly and Limerick are the ones in the crosshairs this week, but all those situations have done is highlight that without solid administration, everybody else in the county is just wearing themselves out constantly swimming against the current.


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