THE shockwaves raised by Eamonn O’Brien’s ousting were still reverberating around Meath yesterday with officials, players and supporters struggling to come to terms with Monday night’s dramatic events.
Though there had been some dissatisfaction with O’Brien within the county, his re-appointment was expected to be a formality and his candidacy carried the full backing of the county management committee.
Instead, O’Brien’s nomination to continue in the post was defeated by 32 votes to 29 and so Meath find themselves looking to replace a man who delivered a first Leinster title in nine years and an appearance in an All-Ireland semi-final.
Lest it be forgotten, O’Brien took over a Meath team that was at a low ebb after losing a Leinster quarter-final to Wexford and followed it up with an embarrassing nine-points defeat to Limerick in the qualifiers.
The new boss will be the fourth to take charge since Seán Boylan’s era came to an end in 2005 and county secretary Cyril Creavin accepted yesterday that the policy of reviewing the management situation every year is not doing the county any favours.
Proposals that managers be handed longer terms in which to build and foster continuity did arise a few years back but that never amounted to much, finding little favour with many of the same delegates who voted O’Brien out.
“It’s always been done this way in Meath,” said Creavin. “Even when Seán was in charge he had to go back to the board every year. Páidi O Sé talked about animals down in Kerry but we have a few of them here too.”
Creavin questioned how many of those who voted against O’Brien were mandated to do so by their clubs. The county board official is concerned about what message that Monday night’s vote will send out to prospective successors.
“It says ‘keep away’. It is sending out the wrong signal. Eamonn took us to an All-Ireland semi-final, an All-Ireland quarter-final and he won a Leinster title and it still isn’t considered good enough.”
Creavin’s concerns were shared by a number of listeners who called and texted into local station, LMFM, yesterday morning but there wereothers who welcomed the decision.
One texter deplored the failure of the management team – Robbie O’Malley, Donal Curtis and Sean Kelly were O’Brien’s selectors – to make a single substitution until 15 minutes from the end of their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Kildare.
O’Brien’s skills as a man manager have also been called into question in the past but members of the senior football panel were just as stunned as everyone else, inside and outside the county, to hear that they would be under new management in 2011.
“It is a bit of a shock,” said Joe Sheridan whose last-gasp dive over the line last July claimed a first Leinster title for the county since 2001. “I didn’t expect it. I was talking to a few of the lads and they couldn’t believe it either. I just presumed that Eamon’s name would go forward again and he would be ratified but there’s not much we can do about it. You’d like a bit of continuity but some delegates were obviously unhappy for some reason or another.”
Sheridan echoed Creavin in praising O’Brien’s record but, as with Seamus McEnaney in Monaghan recently, a sufficient number of club delegates were left unmoved by their county’s clear progression in recent times. “That’s the thing,” said Sheridan. “Unless you are winning an All-Ireland, people are saying the year was a failure. People have such high expectations and that is to be expected in Meath. People are right to expect a lot, I suppose.”
Attention will now turn to a
replacement but nomination forms have still to be sent out to clubs before an interview process can get underway and it took almost four months to appoint O’Brien when he replaced Colm Coyle in 2007.
The timing is unfortunate as the county semi-finals are scheduled for this weekend and the championship will be over long before the next
senior football manager is given the nod for the next 12 months.
There are, it seems, no obvious candidates. Colm O’Rourke and Gerry McEntee will no doubt be mentioned yet again but both men were quick to shy away from the post when it last became available.
Other possibilities include Kelly who, as well as being a selector this season, has also acted as the side’s trainer for the last three years before stepping away from those roles late last month due to time restraints.
Another man who will come into the frame will be Joe Sheridan’s father, Damien, who managed Senechalstown to a county championship last year and who could well claim back-to-back titles in the weeks to come.
“Every year his name seems to be mentioned and you’ll have the other usual lads like Colm O’Rourke being talked about as well but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens now,” said Joe. “It’ll be a new start next year.”
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