Posted by Ewan MacKenna
Thursday 13 September 2012
Back in June, after Meath had outlasted Kildare and produced one of the biggest shocks of this summer, the press pack headed down under the Cusack Stand for quotes.
Outside we could hear the crowd reaction to what was happening between Dublin and Wexford but it wasn’t that which grabbed my attention. It wasn’t even Banty’s expressions and how he punched the air after every few words as he gave one of those press conferences that make him so entertaining. It was the person beside him that was most striking. Until that day no one had heard of Donnacha Tobin but he’d excelled on the field. What made his performance all the more startling was he may have had the body of a bull, but he had the face of a boy.
This Meath team is exciting because it’s so young. Add in players like Conor Gillespie, Damien Carroll and potential All Star nominee Donal Keoghan and there’s the possibility of a good future. Their minors are in the All Ireland final in a couple of weeks and all of that makes their managerial appointment so important. That’s where Colm O’Rourke comes in and having said he’ll attend an interview in the coming weeks, the questions asked in that are vital for this generation of Meath footballers. He may well have the respect of everyone in the county, but in waiting for so long to go for the job, he may have missed his best opportunity to succeed.
Watching O’Rourke on The Sunday Game and reading his column in the Sunday Independent it’s not always clear if he knows what it takes to succeed in the modern game. He’s not as bad as those who join him on television but his narcissistic view of his own era is worrying and his dislike of certain aspects of the modern game doesn’t inspire confidence. What has made both Donegal and Mayo success stories is not only their willingness to adapt and embrace a game that has undergone such a serious evolution, but their willingness to continue to evolve Gaelic football. To succeed you need to become the future and not try and re-enact the past. That simply won’t work.
Both James Horan and Jimmy McGuinness are part of a footballing revolution. They are delegators, surround themselves with the best and they coach their players. The days of showing up and simply motivating your team to victory by breaking a table in the dressing room are long gone. Instead football is now an exact science that takes years of preparation and planning and it’s what both managers heading for an All Ireland final have done. If you have a group with talent and who are willing to give a huge commitment then it need only take a couple of seasons to become a force, but the management team are every bit as important as the actual team.
Mayo very nearly got it wrong by going for a career coach like Tommy Lyons and Meath must not make the mistake of going for a name rather than an actual coach. Meath players have come a long way without the right type of structure around them - indeed they and Galway are the only two superpowers yet to get their houses in order - so if they get the right manager, big things may be just around the corner. Remember, in Mayo, coach Ed Coughlan has brought the players back to basics, proving his thesis theory that you aren’t born with skills, rather you develop those skills. He’s even taught his players basic hand-eye co-ordination and how to run properly. Meanwhile in Donegal, Jimmy McGuinness name-checked the 16 in his back-room team during the homecoming after this year’s Ulster success. Is O’Rourke up to date with such modern necessities?
There is another problem when it comes to Meath in the post-Boylan years that O’Rourke can very obviously solve. Ever since 2006, Meath has been like a country after a dictatorship ends. All the tribes are fighting for power in a sudden vacuum and it’s meant that no manager since has been allowed to properly get on with the job. Even when they went for an outside manager in Seamus McEnaney, it caused trouble. A friend who has followed Meath across the country for decades stopped going when the Monaghan man took over and promised he’d only return to being a fan when a local was given the job. But if O’Rourke could unify, so would winning and whether he can win remains to be seen.
It’s why the Meath county board can’t be in awe when he finally turns up for the interview after years of backing away from the role and they need to find out exactly what he’d do in the job, rather than focus on what he did do in his playing days. Of course he deserves respect but guys like Donnacha Tobin deserve the right manager to make sure their huge potential is realised and great days like that against Kildare aren’t just every now and again.
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