Billy Lee: ‘You’re not going to change history in a year or two’

Some say everyone should work once in sales. Others tell you everyone is selling all the time.

Many GAA managers have honed the pitch. Can flog their philosophy, their methodology, their style of play, their brand. Can convince you they will have the righteous anger for your cause, so they will.

Billy Lee isn’t selling his brand. He admits there have been a few changes since he last worked inter-county: The science, the data, the nutrition. But it’s grand. He’s back in the swing.

The players seem that bit younger, more than a decade on, he accepts. Takes a little longer to get on their wavelength maybe. And perhaps he’s not as hard on them now, as he might have been then. Leaves the bad cop stuff to the younger lads on the backroom team.

Lee won’t set targets or goals or make promises. He won’t talk much about the process or controlling the controllables or executing the executables.

He’s not pushing himself as a guru or a fix-all solution, but it’s easy to see he’s selling every day. That is what he does. Sells Limerick football. To administrators and supporters and journalists. But mainly to footballers.

“There would have been players we’d have approached at the start of the year, to come in and have a look at it and see, and they opted not to.

“And since the U21s have finished it’s been similar. Lads didn’t want to come in… going to America, all that kind of stuff, didn’t maybe want the commitment of inter-county.”

But others were sold on his ideas. And Limerick go to Cusack Park on Sunday with a fresh look, just seven starters who began the defeat by Cork in last year’s qualifiers.

It mightn’t wash with a traditional crowd that, the idea you’d need to convince youngsters to put on the green and white. That you’d have to close a deal.

Maybe that’s why they say everyone should spend some time in sales. You see an organisation in a slightly different way. Maybe that is why Lee uses words few inter-county managers seem to trade in these days. Words like fun and enjoyment.

“There’s so much time involved in this, that people forget one thing: It has to be enjoyable. It has to be something that people look forward to. Why would you go and do something if it’s not enjoyable, just because it’s expected of you?

“Life has got very serious, very fast, with the advent of social media and that, but there has to be that element of enjoyment.

“That doesn’t mean people are being flahulach about how they are approaching things. But why can’t you laugh? It’s important to create that environment. If you enjoy coming to a place of work you’ll work harder. That’s a basic. If it’s a slog, and they’re not enjoying things or how we’re interacting with them, or not enjoying the style of football we’re playing, the travelling an hour to and from training becomes a massive burden. You’ve got to stretch yourself, of course, as a human and as a team to get the most out of yourself.

“But there’s a responsibility on me as manager of the flagship football team to make it an enjoyable experience. To prove we’re playing a good brand of football. These players then talk to their families. And the word spreads and that has a positive impact.”

Alas, Lee isn’t selling to the masses. A former county footballer, the Newcastle West man was a selector for Liam Kearns in what can now be considered a golden era of Limerick football. He later managed the U21s and has been a selector with the juniors. He has coached widely in Limerick and Kerry, last season at Austin Stacks.

It’s a small world, being one of the zealots with Limerick football in your heart. Lee was on the six-person committee charged with finding John Brudair’s successor as senior manager last autumn. He missed the first meeting because of a family holiday and landed to the second to find he’d been kicked off the committee because they were considering him for the job.

He took a two-year term, knowing full well jobs like the one he has on take longer.

“At the time there was three years offered. And I just felt two years, the way I looked at it, it made me work. You can get comfortable thinking you’ve three years, but you can’t be wasting time.

“So I said we’ll go with two and review it after that. And if it wasn’t working out, it’s easy for the board… there’s a small population of people in Limerick pushing the football. The last thing they’d want to be doing is coming to me, saying this isn’t working.

“Obviously, your ambition would be a bit more than that. You have ambitions quietly, I wouldn’t roar them from the rooftops.”

Estee Lauder once told us she never worked a day in her life without selling. “If I believe in something, I sell it and I sell it hard.”

Mind you, Estee held a competitive advantage over men like Billy Lee. “To sell a cream, you sold a dream.”

Harder to peddle dreams when you can barely see the summit of your sport anymore.

“The Super 8 is about creating a product that people want to come and attend. It’s unfortunate for us that counties like us will struggle to get into that eight, whoever is involved, over the next number of years.

“You could really write it now: Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone, Dublin, Galway, Kildare Meath, the traditional teams. That’s the disappointing part, for counties like us.

“We look for Munster Council or Central Council to give guidance, but we are an organisation on the ground in Limerick, starting with the clubs and the divisional boards and the county board.

“Let us get our house in order before we start going looking for support. And in fairness to the county board and the football board, over the last number of years, we’ve set up academies. Over the last two years I’ve been involved myself. They’re getting in former players, recently retired, to come in. We are trying to help ourselves.

“Obviously, everything ultimately is driven by results and everyone wants to win, but we have got to have tangible goals and expectations. A Munster Championship for Limerick at some point over the next number of years should be our target and getting up the league and sustaining your standard at a higher level. That will encourage more to come in.”

As much as improvements in Clare and Tipp make short-term gain more difficult, it does light up the longer road ahead.

“It’s forcing all of us in Limerick with strong interest in football to work harder. Clare, Tipp, Waterford, and Limerick always find it a challenge, with the hurling being the stronger code. I think we all know that. You just work around it. There’s no point in feeling hard done by. That’s the way it is. You’re not going to change history in a year or two, so you just embrace it, accept it, move on.

“It’s going to be tough for us [on Sunday]. We have an awful lot of players gone — anywhere between 10 and 13 experienced lads. Colm [Collins] has a fantastic job done with Clare over the last number of years and it’s really for us to go down there and be as competitive as we can.

“If we’re good enough, let’s try and win the game. If we’re not good enough, let’s understand how far off the mark we are.”

Cork All-Ireland winner Paudie Kissane is Lee’s wingman on the next big deal.

Selling belief.

“He’s very good. Big into the detail, but he keeps it simple and constantly challenges the players to challenge themselves and get that improvement.

“It’s about trying to get the most out of them, trying to improve them, but more importantly grow them as human beings, because if they grow as human beings they’ll improve.

“Sometimes in Limerick, that doubt might be there, but you’ve got to try and take that out of them, and show them that you can be competitive whoever you are.”

If you enjoy coming to a place of work you’ll work harder. That’s a basic


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