Westside Column 10 August 2018

WESTSIDE

 

Two months after our early exit from the hurling championship and the County Board is on the hunt for a new manager. There’s a situation vacant following Michael Ryan’s surprise announcement last Thursday.

It would be overstating matters to describe last week’s dispatch as a shock, but there certainly was an element of surprise to it. All the prior indications were that the manager would continue. He had a very conspicuous presence at Tipperary’s recent U21 games, studying form, and was involved on Monday of last week at a County Board function at the Galway races together with football manager, Liam Kearns.

Yet events seemed to take a turn during the week culminating in the announcement on Thursday that he entire management group was stepping away from the job after three years.

The precise circumstances that led to this announcement will remain in the realm of speculation. It was clear to all that a major shake-up was needed after two very disappointing seasons since the glory of 2016. One is reminded again of that oft-used quote, credited to Einstein, which defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Clearly Tipperary couldn’t do the same thing with the same people again in 2019 and expect a different result, so change was needed. There was less agreement, however, on whether that change would entail a new manager. Some felt it should though most felt that Michael Ryan should remain, albeit with a new backroom team.

The attitude of the players may have been a significant factor here. The players don’t have a formal role in appointing the management but informally their views are usually considered. Significantly there was no public backing for Michael Ryan from any player since June 10 and it is thought that some senior players were adamant that major change was needed in the overall set-up.

We can only speculate that, perhaps, Michael Ryan felt unable to drop his backroom colleagues and instead opted to step aside with them as a group. His resignation statement was certainly gracious in acknowledging the need for change, seeing it as a natural process.

Michael Ryan has certainly done the state of Tipperary hurling some service. He’s had a long innings from his playing days through his time as selector and then manager. You might criticize this or that aspect of his management but there was never any denying his passion and dedication to the job.

There was a curious parallel between his playing and managerial careers. As a hurler he stormed onto the scene to win a Celtic Cross at the first attempt in 1991. Thereafter his playing career tapered off. Similarly, as manager, he scaled the heights in his first year but then the decline was sharp.

Tipperary’s slump since that fantastic win in 2016 has been really dramatic and I think there is general puzzlement as to why things went so wrong so quickly. Everything seemed to be managed perfectly during the winter of 2016/17 but then it all collapsed in the league final and the world has never been the same since.

Anyway Michael Ryan deserves our appreciation for his contribution. I am particularly grateful for that in-depth interview he gave me for the Yearbook in late 2016 and I’m genuinely sorry to see him go.

However, the world goes on and the Board is now tasked with a major decision in choosing a replacement. We really are at something of a crossroads with an ageing senior team and serious concerns about the quality of upcoming talent. The Board needs to get this decision right and, unfortunately, they’ve got it wrong so often in the past.

Regrettably there’s no heir apparent waiting in the wings to step in as manager. I suspect it will take the selection committee some time before producing a name for ratification. We might have some good coaches in the county but that’s quite different from the more onerous task of management.

In commenting on this succession race there are a few assumptions I think we can make. For starters there’s a default position that says Tipperary will choose from within rather than looking beyond the county border. Bringing an outsider in would certainly be a major break with tradition and I’ve seen no suggestion that it will happen this time.

However, that assumption doesn’t prevent Waterford’s Derek McGrath from being touted as a possible successor to Michael Ryan. One forum I’ve checked has him listed at odds of 10/1 for the job, the same odds, incidentally, as Nicky English and William Maher.

I would also presume that previous Tipp managers will not return to the top job. Never go back, is sound advice; the last time that rule was broken it proved a disaster.

However, some people are open to the possibility of a former manager having a background role as advisor or mentor to a new manager. There’s even a suggestion that Eamon O’Shea might be receptive to a return as coach, a role that he clearly revels in.

At the moment Liam Cahill is the bookies’ favourite to land the job. He’s served his apprenticeship through minor and U21 management and the natural progression would be up to senior level. His minor record was impressive but the U21 malfunction in the recent Munster final will have done him no favours. A suitable backlash this Wednesday evening against Galway would help his cause but that’s a big challenge and even if he negotiates that one then formidable Cork await in the decider.

Ballingarry’s William Maher has long been viewed as a prospective senior manager too. Like Liam Cahill he did the business at minor level though his term at U21 didn’t deliver silverware. In any case it’s often pointed out that managing underage teams is quite different to the more complex senior job.

Eoin Kelly’s name is often mentioned too when this issue is discussed. One plus in his favour is that he’s universally popular, a living legend in the eyes of many followers. He’s involved as coach with Sarsfields this year but his lack of experience with county sides might be seen as a negative. I’m surprised he’s never been lured onto a county management team at some level.

The list of possible contenders for Michael Ryan’s job is a who’s who of mostly former players. Brendan Cummins is listed as second favourite with Tommy Dunne and Colm Bonnar high up in the betting also. Declan Fanning is listed at odds of 12/1 though like John Madden (25/1) and Conor Stakelum (31/1) his role in the outgoing management might be seen as continuation rather than a change.

Former Kerry, Offaly and Laois boss, Eamon Kelly, is listed at 25/1 though he’s tied up with a more important job at the moment! Sarsfields’ former coach, Paddy McCormack, is on the list as is Eamon O’Shea’s brother, Billy. Others not on the list but mentioned in dispatches are John McIntyre, Michael Cleary, Eamon Corcoran and Richard Stakelum – the list goes on.

Finding a man with the necessary managerial skills won’t be easy and yet it’s critically important to the future of Tipperary hurling. I can only wish the committee luck.

Meanwhile one team without luck on Sunday last was Clare. They’ll spend the winter regretting those missed chances, especially that goal opportunity which came back off the post. They now know how Tipperary felt back in June with Jake Morris’ luckless effort and the subsequent counter-attack that produced a goal at Killinan. On such wobbles of fate are championships decided.

Earlier in the summer Galway were seen as firm favourites to put titles back-to-back. They just seemed to have that perfect blend of strength and skill putting them ahead of all other contenders. However, recent weeks have dented that impression. They’re fallible after all and Limerick’s confidence must be growing by the week.

It was strange to see Sunday’s replay follow the same profile as the drawn game. Galway were again away to a flier, Clare trailing in their wake for the first twenty minutes. Then, just like the previous week, we witnessed the Clare kick-back. For me it was Shane O’Donnell who spearheaded the ‘Banner’ surge, his goal an item of pure quality. They really should have finished the job but just lacked that bit of composure when it mattered most.

Winning last year has given Galway that little bit of nerve, which previous sides might have lacked. They showed it when Kilkenny came storming back against them in the replayed Leinster final and again on Sunday they had that crucial self-assurance to get over the line at the climax. Canning’s sideline point immediately after Clare’s missed goal chance summed up the difference between the teams.

Galway will still be fancied to retain the title but Limerick are in with a real shout here and they know it.

Finally I enjoyed Martin Breheny’s piece on Saturday last because he reflected so well my own thinking on modern TV punditry. Referencing the drawn game the previous week he rightly challenged the view that Colm Galvin’s deployment as sweeper was the tactical game changer. It had an impact, for sure, but the real game changer, according to Breheny, was a vast improvement all over in Clare’s hurling after a faulty, sluggish start.  He’s right. It really was as simple as that.

These TV pundits love to reduce everything to chessboard strategies, which is an insult to real hurling. Tactics are important, of course, but not the be-all that these analysts would have you believe. Ultimately hurling is a spontaneous, instinctive game played at turbo pace where the players with the best skills who react best usually win. Yet these guys love to complicate things with their clichés and their jargon about middle thirds and playing deep and sitting in the pocket and working the lines and going zonal …. Oh please! Give us a break from the drivel.

P.S. I was sad to hear of the sudden passing of Clonmel’s Dr. Sean O’Donnell at the weekend. The ex-Rockwell teacher penned the St. Mary’s club history and had a deep interest in all things historical. He often commented favourably on this column. My sympathy to his family.

 

 

 

 

 

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