GAA managers could look to serve club and county in new split season format

GAA managers could look to serve club and county in new split season format

Sixmilebridge’s coach, and Wexford boss, Davy Fitzgerald argues with Niall Donovan of O’Callahan Mills. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

MATTIE Kenny and Greg Kennedy probably didn’t thank their captain for it at the time but, a few days after Dublin knocked Galway out of the 2019 hurling championship, Chris Crummey revealed how fired up Kenny and Kennedy were for the Leinster Round Robin game against their own county.

“The week of the game you could sort of see how pumped Mattie and Greg were,” said Crummey. “I think they probably wanted to beat their home county even more because there was so much at stake. They were just that bit more on edge going into the game.” 

Kenny was a huge talking point beforehand because he coached a number of those Galway players during his time under Anthony Cunningham’s management in 2012 and 2013. Kenny had also worked with a raft of other Galway players through his involvement with the 2011 All-Ireland U21 winning team. 

In fact, Kenny and former Galway manager Micheál Donoghue were involved with the management for Galway’s 2005 All-Ireland U21 success.

Kenny and Donoghue, though, first made their name as managers at club level. Kenny made failed bids for the Galway manager’s job in 2014 and 2015. He also applied for the Dublin job in the autumn of 2017, but his stock was sky-high a year later after managing Cuala to successive All-Ireland club hurling titles.

Kenny has huge experience from his time with Galway and Cuala but it’s been noticeable how many managers who guided clubs to All-Ireland finals subsequently became inter-county managers.

It’s a logical career path to the top but the trend of the transition has been more noticeable in football over the last 25 years: Billy Morgan (Nemo Rangers – Cork), Tommy Lyons (Kilmacud Crokes — Offaly/Dublin), John Evans (Laune Rangers — Tipperary/Roscommon/Wicklow), Joe Kernan (Crossmaglen — Armagh/Galway), John Maughan (Crossmolina Deel Rangers – Clare, Mayo, Fermanagh, Roscommon, Offaly), Brian McIvor (Ballinderry — Donegal/Derry), Frank Doherty (Caltra — Clare), Pat O’Shea (Dr Crokes — Kerry), Lenny Harbisson (St Gall’s — Antrim), Micheál McDermott (Kilmurry Ibrickane — Clare), Kevin McStay (St Brigid’s — Roscommon), Stephen Rochford (Corofin — Mayo), Andy McEntee (Ballyboden St Enda’s — Meath), Micky Moran (Slaughtneil, Kilcoo – Sligo, Derry, Donegal, Mayo, Leitrim).

The transition hasn’t been as common in hurling over the past two and a half decades with just six men becoming inter-county managers after guiding a club to Croke Park: Pad Joe Whelehan (Birr — Limerick), Donoghue (Clarinbridge — Galway), PJ O’Mullan (Loughgiel Shamrocks — Antrim), Anthony Cunningham (Garrycastle — Galway), Shane O’Neill (Na Piarsaigh – Limerick) and Kenny.

John McIntyre had already managed Offaly before guiding Clarinbridge to the 2002 All-Ireland final but McIntyre later returned to manage Offaly and Galway. Cunningham is unique in that he managed a club to a football final before taking over the Galway hurlers.

Former Cork and Nemo manager Billy Morgan made the step up from club All-Ireland success to get his hands on Sam Maguire. Picture: INPHO
Former Cork and Nemo manager Billy Morgan made the step up from club All-Ireland success to get his hands on Sam Maguire. Picture: INPHO

Billy Morgan and John Maughan had already managed Cork and Clare/Mayo respectively when they led Nemo Rangers and Crossmolina to All-Ireland club finals in the early 2000s before returning to the inter-county scene with Cork and Mayo later that decade.

Micky Moran made his name as an inter-county manager before becoming a dominant figure on the club scene, leading Slaughtneil and Kilcoo to All-Ireland finals in 2015, 2017 and 2020. Moran is also unique in that, alongside Maughan and Mick O’Dwyer, he is one of just three managers to manage five inter-county teams. Maughan has managed a county in every province.

The late Eugene McGee was the original trailblazer, having led UCD to successive All-Ireland club titles in 1974 and 1975 before managing Offaly to the historic 1982 title. Morgan created his own history with Cork and Nemo too but in the last 25 years, only two managers — Kernan and Donoghue — have achieved that rare managerial All-Ireland double at club and inter-county level.

However, Pat O’Shea very nearly pulled off that feat in the same year. O’Shea managed Kerry to the 2007 All-Ireland title, just six months after his Dr Crokes side narrowly lost the All-Ireland club final to Crossmaglen after a replay.

Mickey Harte also nearly hit that incredible double in 2003; his Errigal Ciaran team lost an All-Ireland semi-final to Nemo before Harte made up for that disappointment when leading Tyrone to their first All-Ireland senior title that September.

Harte and O’Shea stepped away from managing their clubs at the end of those club campaigns. An extended club run didn’t allow Harte and O’Shea to walk away when they were first appointed as county manager in 2002 and 2006 respectively. 

Other managers also found themselves in a similar predicament when trying to combine both roles; the day after Anthony Cunningham’s Garrycastle were hammered by Crossmaglen by 15 points in the 2012 All-Ireland final replay in Cavan, Cunningham was in Nowlan Park as his Galway side were annihilated by Kilkenny by 25 points. When he first took over Cavan at the end of 2018, Mickey Graham was trying to keep Cavan in Division 1 and steer Mullinaghta to an All-Ireland club final.

The workload is so intense now that combining the two is nearly impossible, even inside that old window where the All-Ireland club concluded on March 17th. On ‘Inside the Game’ on Sky Sports last week though, the panel discussed how a split season may allow inter-county managers to also manage clubs in the same season.

Last week, Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald coached Sixmilebridge to the Clare hurling title. 

"Time is the big thing,” said Jamesie O’Connor on Sky Sports. “The way this season has panned out, Davy has probably had time. Other potential managers that might have turned down commitments with their club might look at it differently if that split season were to be the case going forward."

It would be tough. Combining the two roles would require serious logistical and structural planning. And massive appetite. But the split season definitely makes it more feasible.

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