Cumann Lúthchleas Gael Thiobraid Árann

Westside column – December 12th 2015

December 10th, 2015

The chase is on. Throughout the country GAA units are busy hunting down managers and coaches in preparation for the 2016 playing season. Many have already landed their catch – others are still trawling.

It’s an area of GAA activity that has ballooned in recent years. The era of the high-profile manager is now well embedded in the culture of the GAA and every club feels the need to get their man – often at a very high price.
Sometimes there’s a logic to importing the big-name manager or coach. Local politics can often be a barrier to progress and an outsider with no baggage can sometimes get people focused. In other cases a big name may supply that final push to get a promising team over the line.

Our champion club, Thurles Sarsfields, felt such a need back in 2005 after several years of frustrating failure. They brought in Ger Cunningham to get them over that final barrier and since then they’ve stayed in-house for management – and it has proved profitable. They’ve no decision made yet for the 2016 defence of their crown but the feeling is that Tommy Maher will again be manager with Paddy McCormack taking up much of the duties of the late Jackie Griffin.

Sarsfields are not unique in shopping local for management material but they are in a minority. Most senior clubs – often driven by player demands – feel the need to entice an outside personality on board. It’s a trend that has spawned quite a lucrative market for some and those financial implications should be a worry for the association.

Anecdotally one hears of clubs forking out huge sums to get their man. You don’t need to be a mathematician to work out the figures if a trainer is getting even a hundred euro per session over a prolonged GAA season. For some it’s a gravy train with clubs slavishly fund-raising to feed the extravagance.

Recently I’ve been made aware of individuals initiating contact with clubs, effectively touting their services. That adds yet another dimension and underlines the financial attraction for some. The GAA’s attitude to this seems to be one of ‘see no evil, hear no evil’. If it’s not visible it’s not happening.

In the interests of fairness and balance one should point out that not all managers or coaches are in it for the money. Many are simply passionate about the games and love the buzz of being involved with a team. The danger of some milking the system is that they all get tarnished with the same brush.
Anyway it’s interesting to note some of the movers and shakers in team management hereabouts as clubs gear up for 2016.

The Drom/Inch club went through a difficult 2015 season. Mid-term they sacked their coach and got Liam Sheedy on board for the business end of the county championship. It was a major coup, though it yielded little profit as they bowed out to Nenagh.

There was immediate speculation as to whether Sheedy would stay on board for 2016 but that hasn’t happened and instead they’ve enticed back former manager, Sean Prendergast. The Waterford man was with Doon last year and is highly rated by players.

His name was in the headlines recently through Maurice Shanahan who gave him great credit for assisting in his battle with depression. For Drom he’s an important capture. There’s a growing sense of frustration around the Ragg with just that solitary title in 2011 for all their efforts. 2016 will be an important season for the club.

Probably one of the most glamorous arrivals to club coaching in Tipperary is Ger ‘Sparrow’ O’Loughlin who joins up with Toomevara for 2016. He’ll assist team manager Philip Shanahan as the ‘greyhounds’ try to regain lost glory. ’08 was Toome’s last hurrah in the county championship and I would imagine it’s a difficult task to try and reinvigorate a team whose golden era appears to have slipped by. The ‘Sparrow’ has established a formidable reputation with club teams, especially the likes of Adare and Kilmallock, but I suspect this will be one of his most difficult challenges.

Speaking of difficult challenges, the West division faces an uncertain senior hurling future with only three clubs to take part in 2016. Three teams is scarcely a viable championship but any hint of combining with the South seems to have received a frosty reception.

Eire Og Annacarty rule the West at present having supplanted Clonoulty/Rossmore. Their three titles in a row came after Clonoulty’s six on the trot so between them they’ve had a stranglehold since Kickhams last won in 2006.

Kevin Fox has managed Eire Og through their winning spell but he now steps aside and another clubman, Ollie Kelly, takes over. Ex-player, Ollie, has been involved in the past with Thurles CBS Harty teams and he certainly won’t lack for intimate knowledge of his home club.

Clonoulty have endured testing times in recent years watching Eire Og take their place and then bowing out to Kickhams in this year’s championship. That hurt. Michael Ferncombe steps aside after two years at the helm and they have yet to appoint a successor. There were rumours of Limerick’s Ollie Moran being in the hunt but more recently there’s suggestions of a possible return by Donagh O’Donnell. Whoever takes over the reins at Clonoulty faces a stiff challenge trying to revive their fortunes.
The Kickham club had an interesting season in 2015. Many saw them as relegation prospects at the start but the arrival of Clare’s Tommy Guilfoyle seemed to breathe new life into the side. Their West semi-final win over Clonoulty was their finest day but they came up just short against Eire Og in the final. The Clare man it seems remains in charge for 2016.

The North division has fourteen senior clubs and I’m aware of just a few appointments so far. Brian Horgan remains in charge at Templederry despite his promotion to Michael Ryan’s county management team. He’s well respected in a club that’s on the brink of a major breakthrough up North but has so far failed to take that final step. The next few years could be critical if they’re not to slip back.
John Madden was involved with Silvermines last year and his appointment to the county management has left the door open for Trevor Fletcher to take over at the ‘Mines. The former Roscrea player was a county minor in ’97 and ’98 and subsequently spent some time Stateside. Burgess have stayed local with clubman, Timmy Hogan, in charge while Jim Williams moves to Moneygall.

Down South there’s an interesting move with Paul Curran likely to function as player/manager for Mullinahone. Being no longer on the county panel I suppose gives him time to concentrate on the club and there’s hardly a more passionate clubman in the county. They’ll be trying to unseat Killenaule who had Paddy Moore managing last year.

In all this flurry of appointments significant changes to the championship structure seem to have gone mostly unnoticed. A recent County Board meeting approved some alterations which will have a major impact on the Dan Breen in future years. Effectively a ‘B’ championship by any other name has been introduced.

I’m not sure clubs read the small print on this one. In 2017 the teams in Roinn 2 of the county championship will effectively be playing in a ‘B’ championship called the Seamus O’Riain Cup. Their only access to the Dan Breen will be through winning their geographical division. So effectively the Roinn 2 teams will be playing for the right to earn promotion to Roinn 1 for the following year – or, in the case of some, trying to avoid relegation.

There are other changes too for next year. The system which allowed Upperchurch and Lorrha back into the county series in 2015 will not apply next season. If you don’t qualify directly then there’s no admission simply because a team above you won their division. It’s a sensible move.

Another regulation though has, belatedly, brought some ripples of discontent up North. The divisional championships are to be played on a knock-out system with a maximum of four rounds. That means the North with its fourteen teams has no scope for second chances or round robins though the likes of the West has greater latitude so teams can expect to play at least three games win or lose.

Finally, and despite the efforts of storm Desmond, the county minor ‘B’ final went ahead at the Ragg on Sunday last. It proved a tough day for Kickhams who came up against a powerful Moneygall/Clonakenny cross-division combination. An instant goal set the combo on its way and the concession of goals would prove very costly for the West champs.

It’s one of those ones you simply put down to experience. There’s consolation maybe in the fact that the North champions would have been competitive in the ‘A’ grade. Kickhams are young and winners learn from defeat.

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