Former Mayo manager on the way modern inter-county bosses must battle on in the midst of outer storms
It's always interesting to take a step back and look at the top inter-county managers out there to see what their body language is telling us.
Jim Gavin, Derek McGrath, Eamon Fitzmaurice, Michael Donoghue and Mickey Harte are superb managers and make no mistake they are doing superhuman things to keep their respective teams developing and improving.
There are times when they privately must want to shoot their mouths off about pundits and the soft talk that gets thrown around about them and their teams. They must sometimes be absolutely seething. Whatever else about the modern game you cannot get away from the coverage and analysts. That in general is a good thing by the way, as our game is getting promoted, but boy it sometimes pushes all the wrong buttons. The frequently negative chasing tone of some of the commentary must grind away at one's composure. Think back to the league this year and the vitriol that Kevin McStay got. The visual of that "interview in the rain" showed a man fighting to keep going, a genuine guy who had been subject of terrible commentary. He held his nerve and gets a provincial title and a shot at the big time in Croker. Good for him.
Consider the role of a modern day inter-county GAA manager. It's one of the most exhilarating and challenging experiences imaginable, it can at times be mind-blowing - you could be overwhelmed at any moment. The thousands of things that go on test you at every level of your fiber. But you get on with it, you keep pushing and working with your management team for the betterment of the team. There are so many things that you can control, the logistics, the times, the starting teams, the panel members, recovery protocols, diet etc, but then there are so many things that are chaos and noise.
One of the things that seems to be getting harder for mangers to deal with is the level of commentary on everything they do... particularly if you're a competitive tiger like Davy Fitzgerald. His little curve ball retort to the ever willing Michael Duignan during the week got me thinking. Christ it's relentless. Davy is a character that some adore and some don't, but what cannot be questioned is his energy and appetite for hurling and working with teams. He is 24 x 7 hurling. The work life integration you would imagine could be stilted by his all-consuming hurling desire. The getting in your car at 12 and getting back 14 hours later 4 or 5 times a week. How many people would do that for hurling?
So after just getting knocked out of this year's Championship with the emotion and madness of it all, Davy had a few things that were bubbling for a while, you feel. He needed to scratch that itch. The commentary he referenced was very little (that Sweeper word), but after months of unbelievable work and dedication, no doubt working on how an extra defender can cancel out opposition attacks and generate more of your attacks, it was the grain of rice that tipped the scales. Davy quickly settled though, (that's experience) and the following day he was back into control mode.
Sometimes commentary is so far away from what's happening in the inner sanctum of an inter-county team that it is laughable. Team selections usually generate huge debate where there is real anger about certain players not starting. Many players are injured, off the panel, out of form, away and not an option, yet the manager is a fool because he does not start them. Rumours are a nuisance at times and can be an unwanted distraction for a manager. The old player unrest is one that consistently does the rounds. From my time involved i know that some rumours that went out were so crazy, I often wondered had people lost all reason, how could they believe such things. Unless you are in the circle and unless you are told directly by some one in the circle... take it to be untrue.
Anything else leads to madness.
Managers push themselves to the very edge of sanity. The majority are always just about staying ahead of the cracking ice. Three defeats in a row and the drums start to beat. Patience and long term strategies just don't wash any more. Managers are involved and responsible for every aspect on the inter-county team.
In a typical day during championship season mania can unfold. You could have meeting with the logistics guy to sort venues, hotels, pitches, training locations, room lists, hotel routines, football times, pick ups, gear etc, following this the medical crew could involve many discussions around injured, return-to-play dates, recovery protocols, possibilities to play, fitness test, who is in, who is out, then the S&C guy meets up and goes through loading, recovery rates, individual programs, who needs one, warm ups timings, peaking etc. Again this is all with a panel of 36 or so this eats up time. Then the nutritionist could involve meal plans, timings, who needs extra, recoveries strategies, drinks/tonic etc.
Then the PR guy around interviews, players required, pre-match set up, etc, then video analysis review of games, player clips, individual target and metrics generation, county board discussions who is on bus, in dressing room, match day protocol, seat locations, tickets, families etc. Then the kit man to go through their routines and plans, gear all available and washed and in perfect condition. All that and much more before any involvement in team selection for match day tactics and scenarios, players coaching and discussions, selector involvement, tactics etc etc.
It's busy but brilliant. Davy and all the top guys are at this and more. They are tactically looking based on the players they have, the condition they are in and the opposition they are playing to set up in the most effective manner possible for them to win the game. They think about nothing else for days on end. So it's pretty easy to see how irking it can be when someone sitting in a chair challenges everything they are working on with their teams. How would they know looking at the odd game they play what is the best way for that team to set up. The management team surely know best in the case. But that’s sport and the modern world though.
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