Posted by Ewan MacKenna

 2012 Counihan McGeeney 520x280

Antrim – Liam Bradley

They got their statement win over Galway but having rediscovered some of the shape and structure that made them such a decent side back in 2009, Bradley couldn’t take them further when the path presented itself. What he did in 2012 was freshen up the backroom team and that certainly helped but the fact he walked away and the end of it all showed he felt he could take them no further.

Grade – C+

What’s next? St Gall’s manager Lenny Harbison is heavily favoured to take over, and if he does he’ll need to get the county thinking like he got his club thinking.

 

Armagh – Paddy O’Rourke

Relegation and then beaten in the first round of the qualifiers is quite an indictment of a side that contains Finian Moriarty, Aidan Forker, Kevin Dyas, Jamie Clarke and Ciáran McKeever. The last eight should be their level with that group but O’Rourke’s use of McKeever, his substitutions and his tactics were woeful. They can be thankful he’s gone.

Grade - F

What’s next? Paul Grimley comes in and while he’s taking over a side near the bottom, there’s pressure given that he was given the job when many would have liked to see Tony O’Rourke or Kieran McGeeney approached.

 

Carlow – Luke Dempsey

Got the best out of Brendan Murphy and built the team around he and Darragh Foley in centrefield. Drawing with Meath was their best result in a generation and they played with the passion their manager had for the job. Some decent young players there but in a county of that size, they need to target players young through development squads and maximise resources.

Grade - B

What’s next? Anthony Rainbow takes over after some time in the backroom team and it’s a bold and brave move that will do them no harm.

 

Cavan – Terry Hyland

Brought Anthony Forde into the back-room team and was a delegator rather than anything else. It did no harm as they survived Division Three, won a game in Ulster and then got close to Donegal. On top of that Hyland brought in so many young underage winners and settled on a team for the future. Not a bad year, and when Eugene Keating was recently asked about the best coach he’s played under, he named his current county manager.

Grade - B

What’s next? After so much chopping and changing, Hyland needs to be given another two years no matter the results so he can focus on taking baby steps forward.

 

Clare – Michael McDermott

Whatever about getting to a Munster final, what will hurt them most was not getting a result in Aughrim on the last day of the league and by extension, promotion. In his tenure, McDermott has made the side competitive and that win over Limerick will go down as his finest hour. He created a strong and physical team, but there’s little he could have done with this group considering they ran into Cork and Kerry in succession.

Grade – C+

What’s next? The search for a new manager and it’s a hard one because they’ve tried the career coach as well as the actual coach and nothing seems to get them very far.

 

Cork – Conor Counihan

The great underachievers and he's a big reason for that. Counihan may have created a brilliant team and a big panel, but he is now the man holding them back. Maybe they wouldn’t have beaten Donegal anyway but by focussing so much on the opposition, he played his players out of position and lost sight of the strengths of his own team. Noel O’Leary at corner-back? Paddy Kelly at wing-back? Donnacha O’Connor at half-forward? That’s just not good enough and neither is one All Ireland.

Grade – D

What’s next? Counihan must decide his future but we feel he has taken them as far as he can and we’d love to see what a better tactical coach could do with them.

 

Derry – John Brennan

It was always going to be about the initial impact he could make in year one and this season was just about passing time. Everything came off the rails and while he may not have had the players, he didn’t formulate any system to maximise the possession his inside-forward line got and away from the game he was too outspoken and too critical of his players. Some will say his ego got in the way but whatever it was, it was an underachieving season, even for a group this limited.

Grade - E

What’s next? Brian McIver has come in and he’s not to be underrated. His time in Donegal may have been controversial, but it wasn’t a bad stint.

 

Donegal - Jimmy McGuinness

He’s quite simply revolutionised football. Last year was about stopping teams scoring but this year has been about evolution after the 2011 revolution. He has created an amazingly fit and focussed team, has a system that’s exciting and the counter-attacking is anything but negative, and on top of that he’s still found time to coach this group and improve their skill level. The manager of the year, and one that will be mentioned alongside the likes of Mickey Harte and Joe Kernan in terms of his effect on not just his county, but on the game.

Grade – A+

What’s next? An All Ireland final he has to keep his players focussed for, because if they can win that difficult first title, it could be the start of a dynasty.

 

Down – James McCartan

They keep reaching their level in terms of league semi-finals and All Ireland quarter-finals but what we saw in their defeats this year was a worrying lack of coaching around the basics. Their tackling is not good enough, they don’t track back well enough and crucially, a lot of players that are superb when filled with confidence are low on that right now and look like passengers. It’s the manager’s responsibility to sort all that out.

Grade – C

What’s next? An off-season where McCartan needs to look at those deficiencies and fix the problems. The upside is, they are fixable with the right people around him.

 

Dublin – Pat Gilroy

There’s only so hard you can be on the manager because better teams haven’t been able to go back-to-back and he is an All Ireland winner. But if Counihan lost one semi-final, the same can be said about Gilroy in the other. Never had his team playing well all season, but his treatment of Kevin McManamon, introduction of an unfit Alan Brogan and his slowness in moving Michael Dara MacAuley to midfield during their final outing was baffling.

Grade – D

What’s next? Jim Gavin over a team that will be challenging again next year and will only get better given the conveyor belt of players coming off successful underage sides.

 

Fermanagh – Peter Canavan

Promotion was a big deal and it’s too much to expect him to win anything in summer given the state of football in the county. Staying in Division Three would be a big step but he needs to sort out the problems within the camp, the attitude of some of the players and work out is he serving himself or the future of the team by continuing to play past greats who are no longer up to the pace.

Grade - C

What’s next? Expect them to be at championship pace early in the league so they can get a jump start, but thereafter they’ll be hauled in and won’t win a game next summer either.

 

Galway – Alan Mulholland

The grade below might not be great, but he is the right man for the job. He showed how tactically good he can be when his gameplan accounted for Roscommon, but he was shown the lack of quality players he has when being taken down by Sligo. We still expect great things from that 2011 under-21 winning side but it'll take time that he needs to be given.

.Grade – C-

What’s next? They need to go with youth because they’ve nothing to lose.

 

Kerry – Jack O’Connor

We knew they were creaky at the back and O’Connor’s gameplan against the very best showed he knew it as well. He dropped his half-forward line and his midfield deep to cover a lack of quality with quantity and that took away from their attacking game. But even at that, they were close against the best team in the country and in O’Connor they are losing one of the most savvy managers about.

Grade – B+

What’s next? Eamonn Fitzmaurice. It’s a natural progression but he must find a young spine in defence if they are to stop the red tide washing over them.

 

Kildare – Kieran McGeeney

His handling of the Seanie Johnston saga was poor, there are rumours they had a heavy training session the day before the Meath game and against Cork we were shown a serious regression after the strides the team had made under him. He’s back for more but he’s heading into a season with more to do than in any previous season barring the first year and he must improve his own in-game management.

Grade - E

What’s next? Needs to take a different approach because this year it didn’t work but being in Division One has a downside as well as an upside. He can get his players used to seeing what the best looks like, but it might not be the best time to try untested players.

 

Laois – Justin McNulty

Finally the players bought into his defensive strategy and what we got was a throwback to the intensity, passion and commitment of the county in the mid-00s. They don’t have a lot of marquee names and McNulty could do with finding a blue-chip forward, but he got every last drop out of this side and they’ve gone from an also-ran to a side that won’t be scared of anyone in Division Two or in Leinster. That’s some going after losing to Longford.

Grade – A-

What’s next? Convincing his players they need to stick with his system and keep the form that was so refreshing in the latter stages of the championship. If that happens, they should boss quite a few teams across the early months of next year.

 

Leitrim - Barney Breen and George Dugdale

Didn’t get promoted, got beaten out the gate in Connacht and still this year was a success. That just shows how little they had to work with due to natural numbers and emigration but to pick those players up after the humiliation of Mayo, and to take them to a place where they could win their first ever qualifier is an astonishing achievement and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Grade – B-

What’s next? A struggle, sadly.

 

Limerick – Maurice Horan

The latest manager to experience heartbreak over this team but he got the most out of his side against Kildare. Their defensive, counter-attacking tactics that day were perfectly suited to stifle the opposition and there was nothing else he manager could have done. But he did admit after that game that they are a side that cannot afford to lose any key players or they'll collapse. It’s his job to change that.

Grade – C+

What’s next? Keeping his players fit, gunning for promotion and expanding the squad strength and depth across the league.

 

Longford – Glenn Ryan

They are now a Division Two team. That’s a mighty achievement and their counter-attacking gameplan worked so well all year with Michael Quinn holding the line on the 40, with Paul Barden acting as a playmaker and coming deep, and with Sean McCormack having an amazing season beside Brian Kavanagh in a quality inside-forward line. The one problem was, they didn’t have the fitness to maintain that intensity and keep their shape for 70 minutes. That’s what cost them in their two championship defeats.

Grade – B+

What’s next? Becoming a 70-minute team while avoiding relegation in the league.

 

Louth – Peter Fitzpatrick

He got so hung up on that Joe Sheridan goal that it even infected their 2012 and when resigning that was the game he referred to. It’s a pity because in 2010 Fitzpatrick showed that he could motivate his players and tactically he could counteract better teams. Not this year though and something new is needed because by the end he had a team full of passengers that were going nowhere.

Grade – D

What’s next? A replacement who can get the best players back in the country and get the best players already there lining out.

 

Mayo – James Horan

The evolution has been remarkably similar to Donegal's and the way Horan has gone about it has been similar too.  He has coached his players and turned guys like Lee Keegan and Kevin McLoughlin into top-class players that would get onto any side. And he’s been winning as he’s done it, perfectly finding the weaknesses in Down’s defence and Dublin’s midfield. On top of that he’s handled the hype of an All Ireland final remarkably well.

Grade – A

What’s next? Donegal. They shouldn’t get within four points of the Ulster champions but Horan has done nothing but prove people wrong.

 

Meath – Seamus McEnaney

A bizarre season. The league was awful as was Carlow, Kildare was brilliant, Dublin was impressive and Laois was a disaster. We wonder by the end of it did Banty even know how good they were or what he was doing to make them play well. But they aren’t in a bad place now and he’s discovered some players full of potential like Donnacha Tobin, Conor Gillespie, Damien Carroll and Donal Keoghan although he couldn’t get consistency out of Joe Sheridan and Brian Farrell and any sort of form out of Cian Ward.

Grade – C+

What’s next? A bright future if the managerial appointment is good. It’s key as they need a coach in the mould of James Horan.

 

Monaghan – Eamonn McEneaney

He did so much right that it’s a pity the results weren’t there. Brought along the likes of Karl O’Connell and James Turley when there has been so little underage success. But McEneaney never got his team to buy into the qualifiers and this time around, after so match passion and commitment, as well as tactics tailor-made to trouble Down, they were awful in the back door.

Grade – C-

What’s next? Malachy O’Rourke, a great appointment because he’s a proven winner.

 

Offaly – Tom Coffey

He gets points just for making himself available after what went before but again he wasn’t given the time to put in place the structures and training programmes needed for a side that just cannot physically compete. As long as Offaly keep focussing on the short term, the manager doesn’t really matter.

Grade – E

What’s next? Emmet McDonnell who has had school’s success but this is a new world he’s entering.

 

Roscommon – Des Newton

The good, the bad and the ugly. His tactics against Galway were shocking, his ability to lift the team past Armagh was impressive and his inability to cope with Tyrone was as expected. All year though our worry was the players weren’t buying into his system as they had done when it came to Fergal O’Donnell. The fact he walked makes us think maybe our hunch was true.

Grade – C-

What’s next? A big appointment given the fact no one out west can match them at underage over recent years.

 

Sligo – Kevin Walsh

Much like Roscommon, we got a little bit of everything but at the end of it all, that Kildare defeat may be too much to take and may move Walsh on. Midfield has been an issue this season, but his forward-triangle of Marren and Kelly feeding of Alan Costello on the 40 worked so well when they got enough ball.

Grade – C+

What’s next? A decision for Walsh which he’ll need to make soon. They’ll want him to stay on and rightly so.

 

Tipperary – Peter Creedon

For a guy that stepped in mid-season, he did quite a job. Relegation will hurt but against Kerry and Down they were competitive, and against Wexford and Offaly, tactically he got it spot on to the extent it was their best players that excelled. With those underage teams coming through, they are establishing themselves as a mid-tier football county.

Grade – B-

What’s next? Promotion.

 

Tyrone – Mickey Harte

Straight up, he’s being too loyal to the likes of Stephen O’Neill, Ryan McMenamin, Conor Gormley and even Owen Mulligan. Also, he needs to find more central roles for Joe McMahon and Peter Harte. We know the talent is there, especially with Kyle Coney coming back and Conor Clarke having grown throughout the year. But to grade Harte on tactics or anything else to do with football just wouldn’t be right given the year he has had.

Grade - None

What’s next? Modernising the team and bringing on the next generation.

 

Waterford – John Owens

He had his own county board to get over before any team as their scheduling of county championship games six days before a winnable Munster opener against Limerick was outrageous. That rather than results may have been the reason he walked.

Grade – C-

What’s next? Need to get a manager who will quickly make them a promotion force in Division Four. Otherwise they'll drift back to the bad old days.

 

Westmeath – Pat Flanagan

He doesn’t have a big-name forward but the system he employed saw the side average seven scorers a game with Kieran Martin, Dennis Glennon, David Glennon and Ger Egan all having their moments. They move the ball well and Flanagan has rightly build a team around John Heslin in the centre. All that resulted in Division Two status being maintained, a revenge win over Louth and that day against Kerry.

Grade – B-

What’s next? More of the same.

 

Wexford – Jason Ryan

His tactics have always been good, and he’s developed a good forward division, but mentally the team has never been right. They failed to beat Dublin yet again, but worse still they headed for the qualifiers where they should have been expecting to end up in the last eight, but instead they fell flat. That’s not good enough from a manager as good as he is and from players as good as they are.

Grade - C

What’s next? Ryan was a risky appointment that worked as he has taken football past hurling in the country. Now might be the time for a less risky appointment and a big name.

 

Wicklow – Harry Murphy

Following Mick O’Dwyer was always going to be hard but straight away he crucially targeted the league and did what his predecessor couldn’t. Getting out of the bottom tier is worth more to Wicklow football than any championship win but Murphy was shown up in summer where his tactic of long-ball after long-ball into Seanie Furlong was obvious and underutilised Leighton Glynn while he was fit. All in all, a mixed bag.

Grade – C+

What’s next? Consolidation in Division Three and a broadening of the manager's tactics.