THE scrutiny of inter-county team managers intensifies every year and the pressure on them to succeed grows.
That applies more in the leading counties in both codes and if success does not come quickly, the time at the top for a manager can be brief.
Ultimately, it’s down to the players to get it right, but managerial decisions on how those players react during a game are being scrutinised more than ever and failure to get things right can lead to fierce criticism from supporters, all the more so now through social media.
When a team is winning, everything is rosy in the garden, and for years upon years that was the case in Kilkenny.
The appointment of Brian Cody in the late 1990s was a masterstroke on the part of the county board and their belief in him has been repaid a million times over.
Nobody will ever come near to matching his achievements and he will stand the test of time as the most successful inter-county manager of all.
Failure one year was usually followed by success the next year and on Noreside there was rarely a murmur of discontent.
A provincial title for a lot of counties would be seen as a success, all the more so now, because of how competitive things are in the Munster and Leinster SHCs.
Time was when Kilkenny sailed through Leinster each year and nine times out of 10 it would be Tipperary or Cork in Munster.
But in both provinces now it’s much changed, with all five Munster counties fancying their chances and at least three in Leinster. Kilkenny won Leinster again last season and did so in dramatic fashion, after posting two late, great goals, when the Bob O’Keeffe Cup seemed to be on its way west with Galway.
But en route to that Leinster title, Kilkenny had lost a 16-point lead against Dublin in the semi-final, before winning by one point.
Losing such an advantage drew questions, but the comeback against Galway quickly had all that forgotten.
Kilkenny were in another All-Ireland semi-final and were the fancy to get past Waterford into another final. And when they led that game by nine points, that seemed to be a nailed-on certainty.
But it’s history now that Waterford staged a remarkable recovery to win the game and that led to a lot of soul-searching in Kilkenny.
There was never a question of Cody being asked to step down, given his phenomenal record of 11 All-Ireland victories and numerous Leinster and national league titles.
But, recently, headlines have been created in the county by the decision of a number of players, most notably Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly, to step aside, the latter for the new season.
DJ Carey, seen by many as Cody’s eventual successor, has left the camp, as well, to be replaced by Colin Phelan.
Kilkenny don’t seem anymore to have the once endless supply of talent graduating from underage ranks and they were poor in being ousted by Galway in the Leinster U20 championship.
In the past, Cody has rebuilt after one or two disappointing years. Who would bet against him doing it again? But, this time, it may be more difficult.
In the top counties now, it’s an All-Ireland title or nothing and, after five years without one, if Cody can win another it would be his greatest achievement. The only manager not under pressure going into the new season will be John Kiely, in Limerick, and, to a lesser extent, Liam Cahill, in Waterford, after what he got out of the team last season.
Everywhere else, there will be increased scrutiny of the team bosses. Past achievements can be quickly forgotten if a leading county can’t get itself out of a losing sequence.
Given the short turnaround from one season to the next, it was no great surprise that we didn’t see too many changes on the managerial front. And the counties that failed to deliver last season will have a quicker opportunity to do so, although there is a great deal of uncertainty about the playing schedule.
One thing is for sure: The focus on the inter-county manager will be as great as ever.
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