| 1.8°C Dublin

Spillane the tea Pat Spillane's verdict on the seven new Gaelic football county managers

"The cult of the manager is all pervasive these day - it annoys, infuriates and bamboozles me"

Close

Kerry legend Pat Spillane. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Kerry legend Pat Spillane. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Kerry legend Pat Spillane. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Tipperary hurling legend Babs Keating once said a clap on the back is only about two feet from a kick in the arse.

Never was a truer phrase uttered in the context of sports management.

Last spring Andy Farrell and Stephen Kenny were being written off as failures. Now, they’re being hailed for their vision.

I’m not wading into that debate, but as an outsider I will make a couple of observations.

When I played for Kerry success in any given year was based on whether we brought home the Sam Maguire Cup.

National League titles, Munster Championships, moral victories and gallant performances counted for zero. And as for challenge or tournament games? Don’t make me laugh.

Everybody in Ireland is proud that the rugby and soccer teams have played well in recent weeks.

But let’s have some perspective on what they achieved.

Ireland beat the All Blacks in a challenge game.

We ought to remember, too, that this bunch of players have been away from their native New Zealand for three months and played 13 test games on their travels. They are a tired team.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland soccer team beat Luxembourg, a country ranked 98th in the world last year.

The Republic finished third in a five-team group and we failed to qualify for the World Cup.

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

So, let’s get a grip on ourselves and stop celebrating challenge games wins and finishing third out of five.

The cult of the manager is all pervasive these days.

It annoys, infuriates and bamboozles me because their role is totally overhyped in comparison to the players who actually make the difference.

Still, the managerial circus and the Premier League in England is nothing if not entertaining.

Three months into the season and already five managers – out of 20 – have been handed their P45s.

After a run of five losses on the spin Aston Villa sacked Dean Smith – but he has now become the new boss of Norwich City.

The Canaries parted company with their manager Daniel Farke hours after he had guided them to their first Premier League win of the season.

Watford sacked Xisco Munoz who was in charge for less than 10 months and had guided them to the Premier League. But he shouldn’t have been surprised; the club have had 17 managers in the last ten years.

The new owners of Newcastle United fired Steve Bruce but he picked up a cheque for £8m in compensation while Spurs sacked Nuno Espirito Santo 52 days after he won Manager of the Month.

It is utterly bonkers.

This brings me to the world of GAA managers where there is also a mistaken belief that appointing a new boss is the key to success. I wish it were that simple.

Nine counties will have new bosses in 2022, though incredibly less than a month before the official start of pre-season training Longford and Down still haven’t announced who will succeed Padraic Davis and Paddy Tally respectively.

Jim McGuinness was linked to the Down job for 24 hours last week, but it looks like the ex-Donegal boss is concentrating on his low-key soccer career with Derry City and his GAA punditry role.

Down were decidedly fortunate to stay in Division 2 last year. Badly beaten by Mayo and Meath, they fell over the line against Westmeath and then hammered a hapless Laois in the relegation play-off. Staying in Division 2 could prove beyond them in 2022.

Davis did a super job with Longford – they beat last year’s Munster champions Tipperary to keep their place in Division 3. But a 22-point drubbing from Meath in the Leinster Championship suggests the new boss faces an unenviable task

Four of the seven new managers appointed so far are outsiders: Colin Kelly, Ephie Fitzgerald, Andy Moran and Billy Sheehan.

In the case of the latter, the term ‘outsider’ needs to be qualified. A native of Kerry, Sheehan lives in Dublin – but has played for Laois club Emo as well as the county side.

Let’s examine the new appointments in more detail.

KERRY

Jack O’Connor (replaced Peter Keane)

Close

Newly-appointed Kerry senior football manager Jack O'Connor. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Newly-appointed Kerry senior football manager Jack O'Connor. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Newly-appointed Kerry senior football manager Jack O'Connor. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile


The selection process was dominated by what can only be described as a ‘dirty’ media campaign conducted primarily on social media. It had nothing to do with Jack O’Connor but was unfair on him and reflected poorly on everybody involved.

Worse still, even after his appointment the negative narrative continued due to his recruitment of Paddy Tally as coach.

The keyboard warriors portrayed the new coach as a cross between the Grim Reaper and the Grinch who stole Christmas in terms of his football philosophy. I disagree profoundly with that assessment.

The late Páidí Ó Sé talked about that grain of rice required to tip the balance in Kerry’s favour. Tally could be that grain of rice.

Don’t forget he coached one of the smallest colleges in the Sigerson Cup – St Mary’s – to a famous win in the competition in 2017. Anybody I’ve spoken to in Ulster rate him as a top-class coach and that’s good enough for me.

I imagine O’Connor and his management team were disappointed by what they witnessed so far in the Kerry club championship. It has been underwhelming to say the least.

Few newcomers put up their hands up for promotion to the county squad, while a lot of the current first team and squad players didn’t do their cause much good either. The search for a couple of man-markers and a player with a big engine to operate in the middle third continues.

What’s Required: Deliver Sam. So, no pressure on Jack – the thing is he has a chance of doing it.

CORK

Keith Ricken (replaced Ronan McCarthy)

The new boss comes with an impressive CV at underage level. He managed Cork Institute of Technology to a Sigerson Cup win in 2009 and was at the helm when Cork U-20s won the All-Ireland in 2020.

But there is an ocean of difference between managing under-age and senior players.

Close

Keith Ricken, who will manage the Cork senior footballers for the next two years

Keith Ricken, who will manage the Cork senior footballers for the next two years

Keith Ricken, who will manage the Cork senior footballers for the next two years

He’s an excellent communicator and favours the holistic development of players and his management team is drawn from all over the county.

I’ve watched a lot of club football in Cork this season and the standard is at best average. At most Cork have half a dozen top quality players. Ricken faces a big rebuilding job.

What’s Required: Promotion from Division 2 and a run in the qualifiers.

KILDARE

Glenn Ryan (replaced Jack O’Connor)

I’ve said many times that I’d love to manage Kildare given the talent at their disposal. The big plus for Ryan is that he inherits a squad that has evolved during Jack O’Connor’s two-season tenure.

There were huge improvements in their defensive performances last year. Better still, they are in Division 1 next season.

Close

Glenn Ryan pictured back in 2011 during his time as Longford manager

Glenn Ryan pictured back in 2011 during his time as Longford manager

Glenn Ryan pictured back in 2011 during his time as Longford manager

The four greatest living legends in Kildare football are in charge with Ryan linking up with Dermot Earley, Johnny Doyle and Anthony Rainbow.

Granted so-called dream management teams consisting of star ex-players haven’t always worked out – but this quartet is starting from a solid base.

What’s Required: Staying in Division 1 and actually starting to believe they can beat Dublin.

LEITRIM

Andy Moran (replaced Terry Hyland)

Normally I detest the notion of outsiders managing, particularly in weaker counties.

But the Leitrim GAA Board did a sharp bit of business in recruiting the former Footballer of the Year.

Close

New Leitrim manager Andy Moran.

New Leitrim manager Andy Moran.

New Leitrim manager Andy Moran.

On the playing field he was one of the most intelligent players I’ve seen; professionally he is a top class strength and conditioning coach and, having listened to him on podcasts, he is a deep thinker on the game.

He made a good move by recruiting two of his ex-Sligo IT playing colleagues James Clancy and Barry McSweeney – both of whom had distinguished careers with Leitrim – as selectors. Leitrim last won a game in March 2020 so they can only go in one direction.

What’s Required: Be in the hunt for promotion and a decent run in the Tailteann Cup.

LAOIS

Billy Sheehan (replaced Michael Quirke)

Laois ought to be sick of the sight of Kerry men at the helm. Since Mick O’Dwyer guided them to a Leinster title in 2003 four other Kerry natives, Liam Kearns, Tomas O’Flaherty, John Sugrue and Quirke have been in charge.

In fairness Sheehan knows Laois football – not alone did he play county for them, he also lined out with Emo at club level. He has an impressive coaching CV having worked with the Cork and Offaly football squad.

Close

New Laois manager Billy Sheehan. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile

New Laois manager Billy Sheehan. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile

New Laois manager Billy Sheehan. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile

He has recruited two former stars Beano McDonald and Chris Conway as selectors. But having watched Laois a couple of times this year this is a major project. The fans will have to be patient.

What’s Required: Promotion from Division 3 which means avoiding the Tailteann Cup.

WATERFORD

Ephie Fitzgerald (replaced Shane Ronayne)

There is a touch of Lanigan’s Ball here. Fitzgerald takes over from Shane Ronayne who moves in the opposite direction to become Cork’s women’s manager.

Close

New Waterford football manager Ephie Fitzgerald. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

New Waterford football manager Ephie Fitzgerald. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

New Waterford football manager Ephie Fitzgerald. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

He has a decent CV having coached Nemo Rangers to win four Cork titles and Ballylanders to a Limerick one. He also coached the Clare and Limerick county sides. I just wonder does Waterford need another outside manager.

What’s Required: Waterford won one competitive match in 2020 so if they win two in the league and one in the Tailteann it will be progress but frankly I can’t see it happening.

WICKLOW

Colin Kelly (replaced Davy Burke)

With a growing population they have potential. However, Davy Burke’s decision to step down in August after two seasons at the helm was a surprise.

They won just one match in 2021 – but it was a crucial one as their victory over last year’s Ulster champions Cavan secured their Division 3 status. During his reign as manager of his native Louth, Kelly guided them to back-to-back promotions, but they struggled to make an impact in the championship.

What’s Required: Keep their place in Division 3. It will be a struggle.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Top Videos





Privacy