By six o’clock, it was quiet in the corridor under the Mackey Stand in the Gaelic Grounds on Sunday. Most of the spectators had gone off to digest the Munster final, and just a few Tipperary and Waterford representatives were left, engaged in media duties.
Derek McGrath was giving his views to some reporters when Michael Ryan came around the corner; the Tipp boss was immediately besieged by more members of the fourth estate looking for a comment.
“Wait ‘til that man has finished, lads,” said Ryan, nodding at McGrath further up the corridor. “Give him some time.”
Ryan’s courtesy to another member of the club was both characteristic — both of the man and of the officer class he represents ....
Few people know what it’s like to keep control of an intercounty team, and those who do so appreciate the effort involved.
So many balls to keep in the air; so many phone calls to make. A random enough sample of the views given by managers after games just this weekend past makes for interesting reading about what’s necessary not just to stay afloat, but to thrive.
Take the comments of Meath football manager Mick O’Dowd, speaking after the Royal County fell to Derry in the qualifiers when he confirmed his departure from the role:
“I’ve just poured my heart and soul into the job, because I love Meath so much as a volunteer. There’s a bit of a culture now within the GAA where you have those overpaid, inflated egos acting as pundits that are just ripping decent people in the GAA apart.”
TJ Ryan could probably empathise. The Limerick manager resigned from his post last night.
“I’ve given three years of my life to this job,” he said on Saturday after Limerick lost to Clare in Semple Stadium. “I’ve given every waking hour.
“Anybody who’s ever been involved in a management team, anybody who’s ever been involved in intercounty setup, it takes huge time. It takes massive effort.
“It’s every day, every minute of every day, phone calls, trying to organise everything, trying to do it to the best of your ability for the county.”
A couple of hours before Ryan spoke another manager discussed his season. Kieran Kingston came in at the start of 2016 to replace Jimmy Barry-Murphy at the helm in Cork; they were dumped out of the championship by Wexford on Saturday evening.
“It has been a tough year,” said Kingston.
“It has been a baptism of fire. There wasn’t any honeymoon period, not that I expected one. I am not going to make any excuses.”
Kingston’s Cork team had themselves put Dublin out of the championship the previous week; Kingston’s old Cork teammate, Ger Cunningham, had been in the sky blue dug-out that evening in Pairc Ui Rinn.
Cunningham could probably identify with Mick O’Dowd’s comments about criticism; the former Cork ‘keeper hadn’t been helped by a Conal Keaney tweet about Dublin’s lack of tactical nous in an earlier game against Kilkenny, but he put the best side out after the game on Leeside, describing it as: “Difficult and it was emotional but, at the same time, I didn’t hear a bad word said, so I’m happy with that point of view and happy with the respect I got.”
Specific circumstances complicated matter for all those managers, of course. For TJ Ryan criticism close to home didn’t help either. It’s only a few weeks since the Limerick hurling manager castigated local “vultures” who were perched on a branch — metaphorically — watching Ryan and his management try to steer the ship.
With respect to Mick O’Dowd, there’s another complication when it comes to hurling management: what you might call the aesthetic obligation.
The lazy view of Limerick hurling, for instance, is that its success if founded on full-blooded aggression and commitment, but TJ Ryan and his management had to refine their approach somewhat.
The conventional wisdom now is that an orthodox line-up is an invitation to disaster, but as Waterford have shown, it can take up to two years to perfect a different system. Limerick suffered against Tipperary in the Munster championship when they didn’t look comfortable with their new approach.
They weren’t the only ones. Cork also tried the modern alignment but came unstuck against Tipperary when the eternal ingredient — workrate — was missing from the mix.
In that regard, the comments Derek McGrath actually made in the Gaelic Grounds corridor are well worth examining.
Tweeters with trigger fingers were celebrating the end of the sweeper system on the back of Waterford’s heavy defeat (blithely ignoring Tipperary’s defensive alignment in the first half, incidentally) but McGrath was sticking to his guns about the defeat.
“It actually reinforces the way we set up,” said the Waterford manager.
“A close analysis of that game will show that for 45 minutes or so, we were actually conventional. It was just that Tipp dropped a player back and it made us look like we had an extra man. It would actually revert me to thinking that we’re better off playing a particular way.
“The nature of the defeats against Clare and Kilkenny [in the 2014 league] brought about a change but that was an off-season change. We’re in mid-season now. We haven’t the time to alter too much.”
The pressures exist in football as well, of course — Mick O’Dowd’s comments prove that, and they’re bolstered by the withering retort of Armagh’s Kieran McGeeney (“I played with these fellas and they’re not half as good as they remember”) — but the sense that a game is being harmed by tactics is not as strong in Gaelic football as it is in hurling.
Derek McGrath’s biggest and most immediate challenge is to get Waterford motoring again.
It’s good to see him holding his nerve on his side’s tactics as he does so.
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