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Pat Spillane’s verdict on the new Gaelic football managers heading into 2023

Kildare have Anthony Rainbow, ex-Carlow, and Cork have Kevin Walsh, who managed both Sligo and his native Galway.


Pat SpillaneSunday World

In past times, it was said that if you had the reputation of getting up early in the morning, you could stay in bed all day!

Now the false narratives and fake news of our time come from the internet and social media, in general, and no one challenges them.

I notice, after my article about managers last week, that I have again been tarnished with the ageist brush and been told that things have moved on.

That my dislike of ‘paralysis by analysis’ and of the bluffers and spoofers who have invaded Gaelic Football is just old-school rubbish.

Before I move on, paralysis by analysis was Clive Woodward’s approach to winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup for England.

His system was taken on board by Ulster GAA gurus, who saw that Woodward’s conservative and defensive methods could be easily adapted and transferred to Gaelic football.

It didn’t last in rugby – and it has not lasted long in Gaelic football, thankfully.

Why, because it’s a one-trick pony of a system, quickly countered by coaches with a bit of imagination.

It has nothing to do with playing to a team’s strengths or getting the best out of their own star players.

And so to the bluffers and spoofers. Can I just quote what I wrote last week, that GAELIC FOOTBALL IS NOW IN A GOOD PLACE.

The quality of coaching and management teams is now better than ever, and the calibre of the coaching is the best I’ve seen.

Yes, we can quibble about the numbers involved in putting all of this together.

But, as the great Páidí Ó Sé used to say, ‘a grain of rice can tip a scales’ – and if that grain of rice comes from somewhere out in left field, then it is not worth it?

Let me be clear though, the bluffers and spoofers are still there, masquerading now as performance coaches, motivational coaches and sports psychologists – that’s where the spoofers are hiding now.

The fact that you have achieved feats in other sports or in endurance sports doesn’t make you a guru for a GAA team.

Not least because the GAA is an amateur sport, and most other sporting elites are professionals.

But enough of defending myself and back to the present. I’m taking a look ahead at the new management teams in place for the 2023 Gaelic Football season.

Of the 32 counties, 14 have new managers.

Four are in Division One, three are in Division Two, and six of the 14 are outsiders to their new county.

The age profile of these new managers is interesting with Paddy Carr at 54, Kevin McStay at 60, and Colm O’Rourke at 65.

Those older ages for new managers are a big change from the norm.

What is also catching my eye is the number of ex-managers now on backroom teams.

In Donegal, you have Aiden O’Rourke – formerly of Louth.

There’s Cian O’Neill (Kildare) with Galway.

Kerry have two of them in Paddy Tally (Down) and Michael Quirke (Laois).

And Mayo have a pair of ex-managers too in Donie Buckley (Clare) and Stephen Rochford, once of Mayo.

Kildare have Anthony Rainbow, ex-Carlow, and Cork have Kevin Walsh, who managed both Sligo and his native Galway.

But what chance do any of the new boys have of winning the All-Ireland? Zilch!

In fact, any of them will do well to win a provincial title, Mayo perhaps being the exception.

I’d say the prize for most of them would be getting into the Sam Maguire Cup race.

The new Championship structure means the 2023 Allianz League will be a rare old scrap in every Division, as teams try to stay in the race for the All-Ireland title and avoid dropping into the Tailteann Cup.

Indeed, Division Two will be an absolute dogfight this year because of Dublin’s presence.

The return of Jack McCaffrey (left) and Paul Mannion to the Dublin panel will make it difficult for the other Division 2 teams. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

The fact that Jack McCaffrey and Paul Mannion, on the pitch, and Pat Gilroy, on the bench, are all back in Sky Blue tells you Dublin intend to make waves next year.

So the reality is that seven Division Two teams are competing in the league for one promotion place and to avoid two relegation places.

So here I’m going to run through the prospects, or in many cases the lack of prospects, of the 14 ‘newbies’ for 2023.

Donegal: Paddy Carr

He’s walking into a squad that has plenty of young talent, and that ticks a lot of boxes in terms of athleticism and physicality.

Remember, they were beaten by only two points in extra time of this year’s Ulster Final by Derry.

On the downside, they’ve lost Michael Murphy – and I could stop there with just that massive departure.

But, almost worse, the whisper is that already Donegal is not a happy camp.

I’m told the players wanted Jim McGuinness back – he appeared to want to come back, and somewhere along the line the wires got crossed.

Donegal’s opening Allianz League matches are Kerry (home) and Tyrone (away), so they could be in trouble in a hurry.

Mayo: Kevin McStay

He’s a shrewd operator, as I well know from the Sunday Game.

He has been given a five-year term, which tells me that Mayo know a rebuild is on the cards.

Negatives are that he has already lost Oisín Mullin – and that Aidan O’Shea, Cillian O’Connor, Kevin McLoughlin and Lee Keegan will all end their stellar careers during that five years.

You can never write off Mayo, but they have Galway (home) and then both Armagh and Kerry (away) as their first three games in the league.

Followed, of course, by the Championship draw from hell.

That sees them needing to beat Roscommon and Galway just to get to the Connacht Final.

Monaghan: Vinny Corey

He has been a great servant of Monaghan football, and his superb local knowledge will be a huge advantage.

There ends the good news. For Vinny will have to deal with players he soldiered with, who are now coming near the end of their careers.

That is never an easy thing to do.

And for a county like Monaghan, with such a small population, eventually the lack of numbers has to catch up with them.

That seemed to dawn on Dubs Ger Brennan and Jason Sherlock, who came close to getting involved with Monaghan and then backed away.

Armagh (home) and Kerry (away) are their opening league matches – and then they play Tyrone in the Ulster quarter-final. It’s not looking pretty for Vinny.

Roscommon: Davy Burke

He’s the youngest of the new bosses and brings an excellent track record of success with Sarsfields in Kildare.

He also did a decent job with Wicklow and led the Kildare uner-20s to an All-Ireland crown.

But Davy was a late appointment, which is never good, and Donegal’s Mark McHugh is his assistant, but one who is untried as an inter-county coach.

Roscommon are the classic yo-yo team, good one year, poor the next. I fear this will be one of their down years.

Cork: John Cleary

He took over in the middle of the 2022 season and steadied the ship.

There was a bit of shape to them for the Championship – where they were tight defensively.

John is a passionate GAA man, coming from a Cork football heartland, in Castlehaven, and he should have got this job years ago.

There is good young talent in Cork from the Under-17 and U-20 All-Ireland-winning teams of 2019 – and in the Munster Championship Cork are not on Kerry’s side of the draw. That’s a big plus.

Yet, having watched a fair few Cork county championship matches this year, I have to say much of the standard was poor.

And, Mother of God, Cork’s first three Allianz League games are against Meath (home), Kildare (away) and Dublin (home).

They meet the best three sides in the division straight off the bat.

Limerick: Ray Dempsey

What Billy Lee did with Limerick was superb. And a rising tide lifts all boats, with Newcastle West now in the Munster Club Final.

Playing in Division 2 next year will improve their standards, and they also avoid Kerry in the early rounds of the Munster Championship.

But I think they overachieved under Lee. Remember, Limerick were thumped by 23 points by Kerry last year.

Dempsey was another late appointment of a manager, and he was on the rebound from being rejected by his native Mayo.

Meath: Colm O’Rourke

He’s a shrewd and passionate Meath football man.

Colm has assembled a good management team, and going around the county holding trials was a very good idea.

Meath also have a chance of getting off to a good start in the league, not meeting Dublin or Kildare until their last two matches.

But the pressure will be on him until the day the Royals beat Dublin in the Leinster Championship.

I fear there will be days next year when Colm wishes he was back in the Sunday Game studio.

Antrim: Andy McEntee

One of the quickest appointments of the post-Championship weeks and one of the most surprising, given Andy’s blast about a county manager’s life as he left Meath.

He has a good coach in John McCluskey and Cargin’s fine showing against Glen of Derry last Sunday in the Ulster Club Championship showed that there are good footballers in Antrim.

But Andy has a lack of local knowledge and no under-age success to fall back on for new players.

Surviving in Division Three of the league would be a success.

Down: Conor Laverty

By contrast with Andy McEntee, Conor Laverty knows every blade of grass and every player who ever laced a boot in Down football. Marty Clarke and Mickey Donnelly are two fine coaches and he may be able to get the Kilcoo lads to commit to the Down cause.

But, realistically, this is a rebuilding job in a seriously competitive province.

Longford: Paddy Christie

The former Dublin full-back has plenty of management experience with Ballymun, in the Dublin under-age set-up, and also with DCU in the Sigerson Cup.

Paddy was also part of the Tipperary backroom team that won the Munster title in 2020.

But Longford is one of the least-populated counties in Ireland and the numbers game is always against them.

Paddy will seek to keep Longford in Division Three of the league and the attitude will be that if the neighbours in Westmeath can win the Tailteann Cup, then so can we.

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