Managing expectations in a different era for the GAA bainisteoir

An All-Ireland is the glorious pinnacle but savage criticism comes with the territory
Managing expectations in a different era for the GAA bainisteoir

Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy during the All-Ireland hurling semi-Final win over Offaly in 1999 at Croke Park. Picture: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

THE role of the manager in GAA teams has changed so much down the years and in the modern game there is almost as much focus on the man wearing the ‘Bainisteor’ bib as there is on the players.

Long gone are the days when the manager or the person who took charge of limited training sessions turned up to look on as the players did a few sprints followed by a couple of laps of the field that they trained in.

There might have been a game of backs and forwards, nothing too taxing, that’s the way it used to be in the time when supporters hardly knew who was in charge of the team.

Fast forward to the modern game and the growing demands of the inter-county scene has brought with it a near-professional approach from the manager.

In the leading counties, success is demanded more and more and failure to deliver can mean that the tenure of the man in charge can be very short.

If a county is not performing in the manner that the supporters believe it should be the manager becomes a target, a scapegoat for want of a better word.

A manager basks in the glory if a county is successful but conversely takes savage criticism if not.

Delivering an All-Ireland is the ultimate goal and in the game of hurling over the past 30 years or more some of those charged with filling that task have been hugely successful.

Here on Leeside, we have had some of our best ever players in both codes going on to be equally as successful when their time came to take over duties on the sideline.

Cork manager Billy Morgan ahead of the 1995 All-Ireland football semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE
Cork manager Billy Morgan ahead of the 1995 All-Ireland football semi-final at Croke Park. Picture: Ray McManus/SPORTSFILE

Billy Morgan will go down as the man who changed the face of football in the county and during his hugely successful era, he ended the dominance of Kerry Jimmy Barry-Murphy, Conor Counihan, Donal O’Grady, John Allen, Gerald and Justin McCarthy made very significant marks during their time in charge as did Fr Bertie Troy back in the 1970s.

Some of the aforementioned went outside the county and had success in places like Waterford and Limerick, bringing those counties in from the cold.

Of the present-day managers, Brian Cody stands apart as the most successful of them all and what he has achieved in the game with Kilkenny will not be equalled.

His longevity has been quite stunning and across the GAA landscape, constructing perhaps the greatest team of all time when the county won four All-Irelands in-a-row has been unique.

His success story is a remarkable feat of endurance that has surpassed anybody else who ever donned the managerial bib.

There have been others too who left huge marks on the game of hurling, Ger Loughnane in Clare readily springs to mind in a county that was so starved of success that some believed that the Banner was cursed.

Clare were no-hopers in 1995, certainly well down the pecking order of contenders but Loughnane changed all that.

He repeated the feat two years later and that Clare team of the ‘90s had him to thank for instilling the belief into them that they were as good as anybody else, no longer the whipping boys as team captain Anthony Daly so famously declared.

And that is the most important trait in any manager, making the players at his disposal believe in things that never were and saying why not.

Liam Griffin did something similar in Wexford in 1996, bringing the county from the doldrums to the steps of the Hogan Stand. He did not have a lengthy tenure in charge but his influence in the Model County remains hugely significant even to this day.

Barry-Murphy’s achievement in 1999 with Cork stands alongside any managerial feat, securing the McCarthy Cup in a county that 12 months earlier seemed to be in total disarray after losing to a very mediocre Waterford team.

John Kiely transformed the game and the attitude on Shannonside and if he never won another game with the team, his place as one of the best is secure.


Of course, at the end of the day, everything for a manager hinges on the players that he has at his disposal. A manager can do an awful lot, he can get a lot more out of players that might not have seemed possible, making an average player into a very good one. 

When a manager is scouring the county for players that he believes might make a difference he must possess that something extra that tells him that guy out there has a lot more ability than he is given credit for.

A manager is a scout as well as everything else, spotting that player from out of the 30 in a club game, bringing him into his squad, developing his undoubted talents and making him believe all that bit more.

In a recent article written for RTÉ Sport, Dr Siobhan Doyle from Dublin TU summed it all up very well with regards to the role of team manager.

She wrote: “The success or failure of a GAA manager is hinged on a number of factors.

“These include experience, exposure and personality as well as the availability of talents to be harnessed, support from the county board and, indeed, from fans.”

All of those traits are certainly required and probably a lot more with them.

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