Newspaper Article on John McIntyre

Critic takes on lead role  

Sunday February 08 2009

T HREE months after Joe Connolly proclaimed his love for the young people of Galway, a teenage hurler from Tipperary started a job in the offices of the Connacht Tribune. In December 1980, the west had just awoken to a first All-Ireland hurling title in 57 years, and, in an unconnected development, 19-year-old John McIntyre quietly began a career in sports journalism.

In the time since he has virtually become a naturalised citizen of Galway, merging into local hurling society as a prominent media observer and in the course of various productive coaching spells at different clubs. As far back as 1989, he led Sarsfields to a county title but successive bids to become Galway senior hurling manager failed in 1992 and ’94.

A third shot never looked promising and his often frank assessments of Galway hurling through increasingly frustrating times did not endear him to all members of the hurling board. But much has changed. A few years ago Galway management candidates were expected to canvass every hurling club to have any hope of getting the job, making up to 50 phone calls. The process appalled some contenders.

"I don’t want to be associated with the system they have of electing team managers as it won’t help the development of Galway hurling," Seán Stack said in 2002 after withdrawing from the contest. "The Galway election is more of a popularity contest than an ability contest and I left the meeting feeling the officials were on a different track to where I wanted to go".

Ironically, in many instances candidates would have made their feelings known to McIntyre, by then sports editor of the Tribune. At that time, Mattie Murphy (one of three contenders, along with McIntyre and Michael Bond, who featured in the most recent contest) also expressed his misgivings.

"To do the job properly, any manager needs the unquestioned loyalty and support of the officers and board delegates. I hope this new man gets it but it has been lacking in the past decade".

Former trainer Mike McNamara, who worked with Noel Lane, argued that Galway was too impatient and needed to allow a management team three or four years. He also claimed the notion that first-rate Galway hurlers were "lying under every bush" was "totally untrue". He summed up: "Galway is a strange place; I don’t know what they want."

Even the eventual winner of that contest, Conor Hayes, admitted that the system in place for selecting managers put too much pressure on candidates to mollycoddle the clubs. Now, under a different executive, the process of selection is more transparent and up front and less mired in petty politics. Clubs relinquish power to a small committee entrusted to find the best man and they then run with that choice. Farcically, Mattie Murphy didn’t get the job a few years ago when the county board failed to ratify him after he was nominated by a sub-committee formed to make a recommendation.

McIntyre has been a victim of that system and he has commented on it as he is paid to do. That privilege has tended to move him to the periphery like some disgruntled lefty and enemy of the Establishment. His origins may also have militated against him. While Babs Keating coached Galway in 1979, the county had stuck faithfully to local appointments until the arrival of Ger Loughnane.

On past excursions west, it was not unknown for a journalist to be suspected of being in collusion "with McIntyre" and up to no good. This was based on Iron Curtain levels of paranoia and had no basis in fact but it offers a reminder of the mentality that existed and the low levels of trust. It ultimately hasn’t stopped him from getting the job, but it has slowed the arrival of that day significantly.

Despite being beaten in a management contest by Jarlath Cloonan (30-20) in 1992 and Mattie Murphy (29-23) in ’94, McIntyre was sufficiently valued by Offaly to see him replace Eamonn Cregan in ’97. But it proved a hard lesson and his removal after only one season, by any objective reasoning a cold-blooded decision, made him fear he might not earn another shot at inter-county management. Yet Offaly later asked him back for three years.

In the meantime, he has continued to embellish his reputation on the club scene. He guided Clarinbridge to a county title and into the All-Ireland club final, where they lost to Birr in 2002. For two years previously they were unable to escape the county group stages, even with the intervention of Michael Bond.

McIntyre led them to a county final against rampant favourites Athenry and though widely seen as fancy, and maybe a bit too fancy, they prevailed.

He also led Loughrea and Kinvara to county semi-finals where Athenry proved their ruination and in his time at Carnmore he sampled a losing final, also to Athenry. For many years, McIntyre managed to fit in an extended playing career, travelling the 100-mile round trip home to Lorrha in north Tipperary for matches and training until retirement at 41, seeing out his career at midfield in the intermediate championship.

His greatest regret in hurling will always be not winning a senior county title with Lorrha when they were making the most ardent claims in the 1980s. In his early days in Galway, he served as Lorrha secretary, despite the distance between him and home, and in his first year back with Offaly he also took over as coach to his club in north Tipperary. It was the beginning of an improvement that has since seen them return to senior hurling. Even his adversaries confess that he is not in it for the money.

Before all that he had an inter-county career of his own. He won an All-Ireland U21 title with Tipperary in 1981 and made the senior team for the Munster championship game against Clare in 1983, a notable day as it marked the county’s first championship win in ten years.

Perhaps people don’t quite know what to make of him: stage critic and stage actor, often the roles have overlapped. In his days with Tipperary, he played a match in Limerick in 1985 and then reported on the game immediately following, which had Galway participating. He has had different incarnations and fitted a lot into a life that began in 1961.

Those years with Tipperary seem to belong to a different lifetime now. McIntyre remained the county’s centre-back until 1986 and that chapter of his career closed down a year later. He had left a footnote however. In the epic 1984 Munster final, he rose to the occasion with an exhibition of inspired hurling. Tipp sought valiantly to break Cork’s hegemony and only narrowly failed. That evening he played a challenge for Lorrha in Holycross.

Still, people may find it hard not to think of him as a Galway man. Married to a Galway native and father to two grown-up sons who unequivocally support Galway teams, McIntyre is something of an identity crisis. He freely admitted in 2001 that choosing between Galway and Tipp in the All-Ireland final was not an easy call. It had to be Tipperary given his background but he’d formed close relationships with scores of Galway hurlers who had worked under him or been scrutinised from the press box for three decades. His knowledge of club hurling, personalities and politics is vast.

For this long-awaited shot at managing Galway, he will be assisted by Joe Connolly, an almost spiritual figure, and there is a solid link to underage teams through the addition of John Hardiman and John Moylan. It is extremely soon to be making any firm judgements but they have shown a willingness to go for younger players and already a few established hurlers, including McIntyre’s former pupil at Clarinbridge, Alan Kerins, have not been included in the panel.

Their form without the Portumna players in the Walsh Cup was encouraging and today they can expect the challenge to move up a few degrees when Kilkenny arrive in Salthill. Having Kilkenny twice in one week may qualify as an abuse of human rights, but McIntyre was pleased at how they dealt with the task last weekend in Freshford. He has unsettling memories of losing to them by 31 points in the championship while managing Offaly.

Galway remain one of the few teams considered capable, in the right circumstances, of turning over Kilkenny, a belief that has been sustained by ongoing success at underage level. An abundance of good grapes does not necessarily guarantee a wonderful vintage wine, however, as Galway can attest. It remains to be seen how far McIntyre can advance their claims and how quickly.

He has suffered a serious set-back with the loss of college-tied John Lee, meaning he will now have to find a centre-back as well as a full-back, the two most gaping positions on the team. But the mood will be more settled than it has been and that should bring improvement and less mood swings. After the high jinks of the Loughnane period, many in Galway are content to see a spell of simple functionality and that is more in line with McIntyre’s methodology.

He is not a life coach wizard or a hurling version of Martin Luther King. But McIntyre has been around the block long enough to reckon he has earned his chance. It would be hard to begrudge him that.

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