A victim of board level politics?

I WILL always be grateful to Eamon O’Brien for the role he played as a selector when Meath won All-Irelands in 1996 and 1999.

Therefore I’m especially disappointed that after eight years as a selector under Sean Boylan (1996-2003) and after two years (2009-2010) of doing a very solid job as coach that he has been removed in such a way. It proves that GAA management, a voluntary pursuit for most, is a thankless task. Patience is thin on the ground.

There has been some criticism recently about Eamon being slow to make a switch or to use the bench.

Certainly some delegates from clubs who felt their player was not getting a fair crack may have voted against Eamon. During my career, Sean Boylan picked me 47 times in a row to play championship games for Meath and never once took me off, even though there were times when he could have done so. I saw Sean trying out young players over the years and no matter how poorly they played, he would pick them to start the next day, affording them a proper opportunity to make the grade.

In this, his second season, I feel O’Brien had worked out what he believed to be his best 15 and he has shown faith in them. An example would be the performances of Graham Reilly, whom the management has invested a lot of time and effort in. That faith has resulted in Meath being a top-eight team for the past two seasons. Of course, the flipside is the risk of your subs becoming disillusioned if they feel they will never get a chance, a mind-set that will affect their efforts in training.

After scoring five goals against Dublin and winning by 11 points, the prospect of Eamon losing his job was unthinkable. After that Meath played well in the first half against Louth and should have been further ahead at half-time. They faded out after half-time and did not play well enough to win.

As I have written here before, Meath should have offered a replay to Louth but that decision was very much made by the players and the management – and not the board. They played really well in the first-half vs Kildare in the quarter-final, scoring 1-9 in terrible conditions and after 60 minutes were only two points down before Kildare got the bit between their teeth, finishing like a train.

I looked at the DVD since and that closing 10 minutes put a gloss on the victory and made Kildare look a bit better than they were – and Meath a lot worse than they were.

At season’s end, Eamon would have been looking at making more use of his bench next season, address the second-half fade outs and add some pace to the team. This year he had set up a development squad of nine players, talented, mobile U21s who would undertake a weights programme with a view to bringing them in to next season’s squad. To my knowledge this was the first time a Meath manager had undertaken such a program, even if it’s probably been the norm for lots of counties for some time now.

The loss of Sean Kelly three weeks ago as team trainer was a blow as the players were very happy with his training (as they were with Colm Brady’s the previous season). But this on its own would not lead to Eamon being voted out.

Significantly, in recent times club delegates have become frustrated with their role and how they see business conducted at county board level. Some delegates feel their job is just to rubber stamp decisions that have already been made by the board, with others of the view that they’ve not received adequate answers to matters they have raised in recent meetings.

I feel this came to a head on Monday night – with the board endorsing Eamon O’Brien for a third year, some delegates voted against the board rather than against Eamonn O’Brien. Not for a minute would I feel that every committee of every club in Meath has debated at length the pros and cons of Eamon staying on as Meath manager – or any possible alternatives.

The one mistake Eamon may have made was in not attending the meeting. I feel if he had addressed the delegates and spoke of the team’s development, mistakes he made during the year, plans for the new season, he would have been ratified for a third term. In time lots of people will recognise the good work that Eamon has done for Meath football.


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