Posted by Ewan MacKenna
Thursday 9 August 2012
Perhaps it's the bitterness or anger or disappointment, but when you leave Croke Park through the cavernous stairwells after a big day of football, the sound of losing echoes hardest.
At this stage it shouldn't surprise, yet still the need for blame can cause you to wonder how top-class sport and high-level heartbreak can combine to make experienced people lose sight of logic and grasp of reason. Last Saturday, Down fans leaving early after their annihilation by Mayo were suggesting it was time for a change and after so much service as a player and so much work as a manager many believed it was now that James McCartan must move on.
A day later and a change of name was all that was required. Kildare are no longer recognisable from the county Kieran McGeeney assumed control of for the 2008 season yet still there were many calls for his head as if this would solve the deep-rooted problem in the county that has existed for generations.
We are well aware that in society everyone wants a way out and no one wants to face up to a bad situation. It's human nature. Rather than admit we are not good enough, we twist our heads and stare at anyone that meets our eyes and pass off the problem as being of their making.
They are to blame, not us. And when it comes to GAA, perhaps it's this combined with the fact that each county is stuck with the same system and the same players that we look for managers to shoulder all the responsibility rather than admit the structure in place is simply not good enough and a long-term project is needed. But if we step back and evaluate such knee-jerk reactions, we'd realise they make little sense and get us nowhere.
The only acceptable reasons for change are if the manager has enough, the players have enough or a better option has come along. Yet so often in GAA, counties change their manager for the sake of change rather than for betterment.
It's what the Galway footballers have done time and again in recent seasons and it's been the quick fix that has tried to paper over the cracks in their underage system. And it's been a similar story in Meath where the senior manager has taken the blame for neglect of development squads and club football.
Instead of this denial though, in times of trouble it's often best to sit tight and remember the reason you appointed a manager in the first place - just look at Laois and what Justin McNulty has done over the past few weeks. In the modern game in particular you can't turn average players who have been physically neglected into a team able to compete with bigger and better squads by just shouting and roaring in the dressing room any more. The days of pride and passion over physique and prowess are long gone and a lot of time is needed to make baby steps.
It's why the likes of Down and Kildare need to take a while to cool off and think of what's best for the game in their counties going forward. Of course Kildare could get rid of McGeeney and say that 2012 has been a huge disappointment and they believe someone else is needed to take them forward. But then what after lazy rhetoric? Glenn Ryan is tied up for another year at least, there are plenty of career managers out there who don't belong in the modern game and going for another maverick as they did with McGeeney would only defeat the point. It would be changing what they have for a similar model, only five years off the pace.
It's why Meath must be careful too having now been forced to move on. Six of the managers who coached in this year's quarter-finals have played the game in the last 20 years. Weigh up enough Sunday Game tape and you'll see the choice the county have when it comes to Colm O'Rourke or Trevor Giles. Tommy Lyons was initially the more popular choice for Mayo two year's back but they opted for a coach rather than a personality and look at where they are under James Horan as opposed to where they might have been. Jimmy McGuinness was initially overlooked for the Donegal job and look where he has gotten them compared to the man once chosen ahead of him, John Joe Doherty.
Changing manager is often seen as the easy option even though it's the wrong option. For those counties that have already made the call, they now need to make the right choice or face further setbacks and years climbing back to base camp. But for those thinking about making such a call, they need to realise that there may not be a right choice after an over-the-top reaction in late summer. Sometimes, it can be better to go stagnant than risk regression.
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