In Kerry, its has long been the case that reputations are measured in All-Ireland medals.
The joke goes that there are so many of them around the place that you should check your change in the coffee shop in case you’re given one by accident. Winning one is grand, it shows you can play, but you need to have a few in the pocket for your voice to carry any weight.
Or, at least, that was how it worked until recent weeks, when it seemed you weren’t anyone in the Kingdom unless you were part of the many high-powered prospective senior football management teams. Ultimately, familiarity won out as Jack O’Connor was appointed for a third stint in charge, with two of his former players – Diarmuid Murphy and Micheál Quirke – as part of the backroom set-up.
O’Connor won All-Irelands in 2004 and 2006 in his first stint in charge and then, returning after Pat O’Shea’s two-year term, the Dromid Pearses man guided Kerry to victory again in 2009, beating Cork. The county has only claimed Sam Maguire once since, in 2014.
On the hurling, second comings have had some success, with Pat Henderson (Kilkenny), Cyril Farrell (Galway) and Liam Sheedy (Tipperary) all winning the All-Ireland in their second terms, while in Cork there are quite a few examples of a second spell being worthwhile.
Cork’s last two All-Ireland hurling final appearances, in 2013 and 2021, were under managers who had returned, Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Kieran Kingston respectively. Indeed, Kingston’s backroom team includes Ger Cunningham, Diarmuid O’Sullivan and Dónal O’Grady, all of whom had been involved in Cork management teams previously.
It’s a common thread going back through GAA history on Leeside.
Barry-Murphy couldn’t repeat the 1999 All-Ireland success, but he did improve things for the Rebels. Further back, Gerald McCarthy was coach in 1982 as the Rebels reached an All-Ireland against Kilkenny but he stepped down following a dispute over selection issues. He was back as trainer during Canon Michael O’Brien’s time in charge from 1990 to 1994, playing a big role in Munster, All-Ireland and league successes.
When the Canon stepped down, it looked as if McCarthy would take the job on his own but this did not come to pass and it would be 13 years before he would get sole control of the senior side.
The man who did take over from O’Brien in 1994 was the late Johnny Clifford, another who had multiple spells in charge. He first took the reins in 1983, when Cork again lost to Kilkenny in the final, after which he resigned and took over the minors, leading them to an All-Ireland in 1985. He was back with the seniors the following year as they beat Galway to win the All-Ireland, but failed to add to the trophy tally, stepping down in 1988.
When he took charge for the final time in the mid-90s, Cork hurling was in the doldrums, in the middle of a seven-year period when Kerry were they only side they beat in the championship.
Another multiple-spell manager was Justin McCarthy. He had been trainer without selection privileges in 1975 as Cork won Munster. Having been a selector under Gerald in 1982, he became manager for the centenary year in 1984, despite the county board championing Clifford’s credentials.
This left McCarthy in no doubt that the day Cork lost in the championship would be his last in charge, and so it proved as he left after the semi-final defeat to Galway in 1985, despite winning the All-Ireland the previous year.
The man most closely associated with Cork football, Billy Morgan, had his first taste of managerial experience as a player-manager in 1981, but as so often happened back then, the season ended with a Munster final defeat to Kerry. When, having returned to Ireland after a time away, he took the job again in the autumn of 1986, it would lead to what is regarded as Cork football’s most successful period, guiding the team to four successive All-Ireland final appearances, winning back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990.
While Kerry had got back on top when Morgan stepped down in 1996, he returned seven years later after Larry Tompkins’ tenure. While there was a poor defeat to Fermanagh in the 2004 qualifiers, Morgan set about rebuilding the side and reached two All-Ireland semi-finals and a final in the following three years, losing only to Kerry in the championship.
He was succeeded by Conor Counihan and, in the wake of Ronan McCarthy’s departure, there have been some calls for the 2010 All-Ireland-winning manager to return. However, as he is on the selection committee as part of his director of football role, it’s an unlikely prospect.