“I have 20 fellas, and they can’t make a mistake,” he says, “but I can’t be hands-on watching them all the time, so they have to be put there and motivated to do a job. There has to be a very clear message — ‘Guys, you get that wrong and you’re not going to be around here for long’.
“They’ve got to do the job right.”
When the Ballincollig manager says this, he isn’t actually talking about football, but Castlecor Potatoes, the potato-growing and packing operation he runs, with Lidl one of his biggest customers.
Managing Castlecor and managing a football team aren’t so different, in his view.
“You have to identify guys for whom obstacles are not obstacles, that there are no such thing as excuses,” he says.
“Whatever is there, it has to be dealt with, so you equip yourself to deal with it. When you take the field against any team, you can only give people guidelines and hope they do it. I talk about equipping the players with a toolbox, that they know what they should be doing in any situation — you know, if you’re congested, what you should be doing with the ball; you know, if there’s space there, what to do; you know what you’re supposed to be doing in terms of workrate, you know what is required with regards to marking and tackling the opposition.”
Tomorrow, English’s Ballincollig side take to the Páirc Uí Rinn pitch against Carbery Rangers, attempting to win a second title in three years.
He has previously guided Duhallow to the decider, losing narrowly to Castlehaven in 2012, while he was in charge when Clyda Rovers finally made the premier intermediate breakthrough a year later. He can also include Munster club success with Limerick’s Dromcollogher-Broadford on his CV, but he admits that it hasn’t always been an easy ride this year for him and sidekick, Paddy Gleeson.
“At club level, it’s so difficult because you have so little access to them and there’s so much to be done.
“You have to prioritise what needs to be improved. A lot of them, their skill-set is poor; a lot of them, their mental strength is poor; and others’ physiology needs improving. You have to work on all of them together, but you might only have one hour a week.
“Here in Ballincollig, it has been very frustrating — in the earlier part of the season, we might have only had one session in two weeks and you have to get these guys up to a pace and speed, Paddy and myself were tearing our hair out. You have to cut corners then, so we focused on their heads — getting the decision-making right, their use of the ball, because we couldn’t work on anything else.
“At the end of the day, I’m getting to no final. We’re just facilitators, and that’s not bullshit. They’re the men.”
How, then, will he facilitate the winning of the final?
“First of all, we’re not focused on winning it at all,” he says, “and that’s genuine.
“If you’re focusing on winning, you’re focusing on losing because you’re not focusing on the process and the process has to be good at all the various parts of the game — and I ain’t going to tell you what parts we’re looking at!”
Understandably reluctant to lay his own gameplan bare, he is obviously somewhat in the dark as to how Carbery Rangers will shape up.
“What the opposition is going to do, we really don’t have a clue, and you don’t have a clue,” he says.
“I don’t know how Carbery Rangers are going to set up — you might have an idea, but teams try to hit you with things.
“Nemo, the last day, played four across the middle and two sweepers, which meant that the kind of flowing game we played against Castlehaven couldn’t occur. When the boys looked up, there were so many Nemo bodies inside that if you were kicking the ball in there you were just giving it away. It doesn’t look pretty, but you just have to retain the ball. I remember my good friend Eamonn Ryan, when I was coaching with him in UCC, he would always say, ‘When you have control of that ball, you have 100 percent control of the game’.
“I expect Carbery Rangers to put a strong defensive unit there, of late they have become very strong defensively. When Avondhu tried to run at Carbery Rangers the last day, they just ran into congestion and they were able to take the ball off them like candy from a baby.
“I don’t expect there’ll be a lot of space, I think it’ll be a tough, attritional game — I hope it won’t, I’d like if it was a bit more open — but we’ve got to learn to create space in congestion if that makes any sense.”
Given that it’s a repeat of the final of two years ago, easy parallels can be drawn regardless of the outcome. English doesn’t feel it’s as simple as his side having a psychological edge.
“We talk about this word called ‘leverage’ and it certainly sharpens the mind,” he says. “For Carbery Rangers, these guys have lost a lot of games towards the latter end of the championship over the last few years so I think their minds will be very focused.
“Ballincollig, we hope they’ll be focused, but they’ve had the opposite, when they played their first county final, they won it. They might think that, now they’re back, it’s the same again, but nothing could be further from the truth. The nearer you get to the prize, it upsets people’s heads because they think about the prize and forget the process.”