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the sack race Which of our inter-county GAA managers is most under pressure in 2021?

Kerry boss Keane and Donegal chief Bonner top our pressure ranking

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Declan Bonner of Donegal and Peter Keane back in 2019. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Declan Bonner of Donegal and Peter Keane back in 2019. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

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Declan Bonner of Donegal and Peter Keane back in 2019. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

So far, the GAA has avoided the worst excesses of professional soccer when it comes to sacking managers.

Former Republic of Ireland soccer boss Mick McCarthy was one of the latest victims. Cypriot side Apoel fired him after just two months and nine games in charge, even though he guided the team to three wins and a draw in his first five games.

There is no 'sacking' culture in the GAA which is understandable given that, in theory at least, all inter-county bosses are doing the job for free.

Still, managing an inter-county team is a pressurised job and, as the managers often say themselves, 'it is a results-driven business'.

The start of the 2021 season may be delayed but the action will resume soon enough and with the All-Ireland finals scheduled for July there is little time for reflection.

So which GAA managers will be under most scrutiny in the new season? In this special feature we look at which team bosses will be under the cosh in 2021.

Using our special pressure cooker gauge (PCG) we rank the top 12 bosses in football under most pressure and the six in hurling who may be looking over their shoulder later this year.

Football

1 - Peter Keane (Kerry)

Though reports of a players' coup against Keane were incorrect, the Kerry boss is under enormous pressure.

One All-Ireland win since 2009 represents a football famine in the Kingdom. Dublin have cut their lead at the top of the All-Ireland Roll of Honour to just seven - it was more than double that at the start of the last decade.

Keane's decision to part company with coach Donie Buckley last spring came back to haunt him as the side's new defensively-orientated, counter-attacking game crashed and burned against Cork. The manager needs to bolster his back-room team, establish a better rapport with the players and allow them to express themselves more freely.

But unless they topple Dublin and win the All-Ireland it is unlikely that Keane's three-year term will be extended.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 9.8

2 - Declan Bonner (Donegal)

Even though Donegal won two of the last three Ulster titles, they have now failed to win three clutch games in the All-Ireland series in successive seasons.

They lost to Tyrone in Ballybofey in 2018, to Mayo in Castlebar in 2019 and to Cavan in last year's Ulster decider in Armagh. The return of Odhran MacNiallais is a significant boost - but their younger players will have to stand up and be counted at the business end of key matches if Bonner is to survive.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 9.5

3 - Pádraic Joyce (Galway)

No team suffered more than Galway due to Covid-19. They were flying in Joyce's debut season when the action was halted in the spring and by the time it resumed in October the momentum was lost.

They failed to win a game in part two of the season. Apart from Shane Walsh and Paul Conroy, their lack of fight in the Connacht final jarred. Joyce knows more will be expected of him and his squad in 2021.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 9.0

4 - Feargal Logan/Brian Dooher (Tyrone)

For the Tyrone fans that couldn't wait to see the back of Mickey Harte it could be 'be careful what you wish for'.

The record of management teams who succeed legendary bosses is patchy - Meath is a prime example of where things can go seriously wrong.

Joint team managers don't have a great record either, though Logan and Dooher were at the helm when Tyrone won an All-Ireland Under-21 title in 2015.

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Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan have big boots to fill when replacing Mickey Harte in Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan have big boots to fill when replacing Mickey Harte in Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

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Brian Dooher and Feargal Logan have big boots to fill when replacing Mickey Harte in Tyrone. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

They ought to get a bounce in their first season, but will be in the limelight from day one.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 8.5

5 - Jack O'Connor (Kildare)

O'Connor had a difficult act to follow - given Mick O'Dwyer's record in Kildare. But even Micko wasn't an overnight success and the Leinster football landscape has changed dramatically since his time. At best, Kildare stood still in 2020, though Covid-19 impacted dramatically on O'Connor's plans, given it was his debut season. Improvement will be expected this year.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 8.0

6 - Ronan McCarthy (Cork)

It was a bitter-sweet season for the Rebels. Having finally achieved a first championship win over Kerry since 2012 they fell at the next hurdle to Tipperary. The fact that Seán Powter couldn't play at all, and the injury-forced half-time retirement of Luke Connolly, hurt them badly in the Munster final.

But their tactics backfired badly as well. McCarthy doesn't need reminding how difficult it will be to achieve back-to-back championship wins over the Kingdom if that's how the draw pans out.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 7.8

7 - James Horan (Mayo)

Granted they lost another All-Ireland final but 2020 was a satisfactory year for James Horan, who is two years into a rebuilding programme. Apart from goalkeeper David Clarke, the others who announced their retirements recently were, by now, squad players.

AFL clubs will be in the hunt for two of Mayo's brightest prospects, Oisín Mullin and Eoghan McLaughlin, while Horan certainly needs to examine his own match-day management skills.

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James Horan will hope to build on last year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

James Horan will hope to build on last year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

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James Horan will hope to build on last year. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 7.5

8 - Anthony Cunningham (Roscommon)

Given the size of their population Roscommon have punched above their weight since securing promotion to Division 1 in 2015. They are back in the top flight again in 2021. However, the Rossies flopped against Mayo in the championship last autumn and Cunningham has work to do to lift their morale again.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 7.2

9 - Andy McEntee (Meath)

Nobody was more shocked or disappointed than McEntee at the team's woeful display against Dublin in the Leinster final.

Yes, their debut season in Division 1 didn't go well. And their failure to win a game there didn't break their spirits, while their performances in the Leinster series suggested that they might offer a reasonable challenge to Dublin. Psychologically, McEntee faces a giant-sized task.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 7.0

10 - Banty McEnaney (Monaghan)

On the credit side Monaghan defied the odds to stay in Division 1 for a seventh successive season, remarkable for a county with a population of just 61,386 people. But the wounds left by their Championship defeat to their bitterest rivals Cavan, despite leading by seven points at half-time, will take a long time to heal.

The acquisition of Kerry's Donie Buckley is a major coup for McEnaney.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 6.8

11 - Kieran McGeeney (Armagh)

This will be McGeeney's seventh season in charge and frankly he leads a charmed existence.

His side has won two provincial championship games so far under his tenure and endured a 12-point mauling from Donegal in last season's Ulster semi-final.

Bringing Kerry star Kieran Donaghy into his coaching team is puzzling as Armagh's problems have been in defence.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 6.5

12 - Dessie Farrell (Dublin)

Dublin's All-Ireland-winning boss only makes this list because all defending Sam Maguire coaches are under pressure.

He didn't put a foot wrong in his rookie season, introducing newcomers Robbie McDaid, Seán Bugler and Paddy Small while leaving All-Stars Paul Mannion and Brian Howard on the bench. His two-in-a-row looks a shoo-in right now.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 6.0


Hurling

All eyes on Fitzgerald and Cody

1 - Davy Fitzgerald (Wexford)

In his three county managerial roles so far, Davy Fitzgerald has achieved his best results in the early years of his tenure. He guided Waterford to an All-Ireland final appearance in his first season; his native Clare won the All-Ireland in his second season at the helm, while Wexford secured the Leinster title in his third season.

The team failed utterly to ignite in last year's championship, but the Clare man opted to remain on for a fifth season. It's a big risk for both parties.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 9.5

2 - Brian Cody (Kilkenny)

One of the longest-serving team managers in world sport, the Kilkenny maestro has just been ratified by the County board for a 23rd season at the helm. It is noticeable, however, that there were muted mutterings of discontent after the team's exit from last year's All-Ireland series.

It seems the senior players would like a manager who takes more cognisance of how the opposition set up and devises tactics accordingly. Even though Kilkenny have won an unprecedented 11 All-Ireland titles under Cody's reign (last win 2015), they are now experiencing their worst famine since failing to win the Liam MacCarthy Cup between 1993 and 2000.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 9.0

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Kilkenny manager Brian Cody

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody

SPORTSFILE

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody


3 - Kieran Kingston (Cork)

Once again Cork hurlers were underwhelming in the championship despite a spirited effort in the qualifiers against Tipperary. With no All-Ireland win since 2005, there is now huge pressure on the Cork team manager, no matter who he is.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 8.5

4 - Shane O'Neill (Galway)

Galway threw away a Leinster title last November, but had a little satisfaction in that they asked more questions of Limerick than any other team in the All-Ireland semi-final. After a disrupted debut season in 2020 more can be expected of their boss this year.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 8.0

5 - Brian Lohan (Clare)

Tony Kelly single-handedly kept Clare's championship season on target until he was injured in the quarter-final with Waterford. With John Conlon missing through injury, and Podge Collins and Peter Duggan also absent, it was a difficult debut season for Lohan. He knows he can't keep relying so much on Kelly.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 7.5

6 - John Kiely (Limerick)

Having guided Limerick to two All-Ireland wins in the last three seasons as well as a brace of Munster and League titles, the only pressure on Kiely is what he exerts himself. Talk of establishing a dynasty is way, way premature but Kiely would love to win back-to-back All-Ireland titles - something which only Kilkenny and Cork have achieved this century.

PRESSURE COOKER GAUGE: 7.0

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