Review of The Managers - Tactics and Thinkers that transformed Gaelic Football

October 29th, 2013
by Weeshie Fogarty

Early last year I was interviewed in relation to new book which would concentrate solely on the managers of inter county Gaelic football teams. The author Daire Whelan lives in South Tipperary, he is also the author of two previous non fiction books and is an award winning producer with Newstalk, RTE and Setanta Sports. Now the book has just come to hand in the last week and it makes for compelling reading. Superbly researched it's easily the best compiled book I have read on the subject of managers in our games. Indeed it's probably the only book so far published that has dwelt entirely with managers.

So what is it that makes a successful Gaelic football manager whether you talk about club or county? Is it success as a past player, man management skills, or in more recent times, a knowledge and understanding of tactics, systems and game-plans? Can a winning mindset really be taught or trained? And how can success on the pitch be transferred to success elsewhere? Daire Whelan traces the evolution and development of Gaelic football as seen through the eyes of the game's most influential and successful managers and teams, including the Down 1960s revolution, the Heffernan-O'Dwyer years, as well as the rise of Ulster counties, and Kerry's challenge to stick to its traditions in the face of the modern game. He reveals just what it is about the game's leading managers that brought such unparalleled success, and discovers that what works on the training pitch, works in all aspects of life. From the methods to the mindsets, The Managers shines a light on how and why success can be achieved on the Gaelic football field and beyond.

And of course as in all books dealing with Gaelic football Kerry invariably figure high in the authors list of legendary men who patrolled the sidelines on the big championship days. Dr Eamon o Sullivan, Jackie Lyne, Johnny Culloty, Mick o Dwyer, Mickey Ned o Sullivan, Ogie Moran, Paidi o Se, Pat o Shea and Jack o Connor all get honorable mention, some of course more than others

Included are interviews and insights from some of the game's greatest minds, including, Kevin Heffernan, Sean Boylan, Eugene McGee, Brian McEniff, John O'Mahony and Joe Kernan. Whelan brings readers on a journey right up to the rise of 'The System' under Jim McGuinness. What is it that made some managers so successful? What was different about their philosophies and approaches? And how did they influence and change the game? Asking players and coaches about the future of the game, The Managers provides us with a valuable account of the evolution of Gaelic football, and the men who changed it forever.

At the winding up of an in dept interview with Jack o Connor, who I rate in the publication one of the county's top three best  managers/trainers I personally have seen with Dr Eamon o Sullivan and Mick o Dwyer the South Kerry native wonders what lies ahead for the Kingdom. A very appropriate conclusion I feel in light of the fact that o Connor has now been appointed as Kerry minor manager. He was when interviewed working with the development squads here in the county and had a first hand knowledge of the future talent. He refers then to the problems in relation to minor county players here in Kerry, adding.

"They are not producing them in the numbers certainly that was there before. This is one of the things that I found in my last few years with Kerry that the players weren't coming through in the quantities that you needed. I was involved with the under 21s in the 1990s and we won three All Ireland's in five years and you look at the players that came through in that period". He then recalls some of the great names on with those winning teams. "The o Se's, the Seamus Moynihan's, the Mike McCarthy's, we got a bunch through in the 1990s that really stood the test of time and they were the backbone of the Kerry senior team for ten years. But Kerry hasn't won a minor since 1994, it's like Kilkenny not winning a minor for twenty years, there would be a steward's inquiry and that is the big challenge for Kerry to try and get a minor success and build on it for the future".

He also talks about his cynicism for the future of the game, having seen and dealt with one Ulster revolution in the first part of his management career, and now Donegal have taken it another step. A very deep thinker of the game the former senior manager continued. "Football constantly evolves, after 2002-2003 people thought that the Tyrone and Armagh style would stay in vogue but the game has changed again. The one thing I would have to say about Jim McGuinness is he had serious balls to do what he did, because if I tried to do what he did in Kerry, I would have no fan but myself". He then concludes on the same thyme of defensive play. "You would not get away with an overly defensive style in Kerry because the public don't want it". So a pat on the back for the grass root Kerry supporter here because we learn  by expressing and making known your feelings and dissatisfaction with the swarming, crowding thirteen men behind the ball style is after all taken on board by those in charge.

While all of the managers featuring in this captivating GAA read have achieved the ultimate goal of All Ireland success we also learn it hasn't been without the pain of defeat along the way. The system versus the individual. Hand passing versus catch and kick. One manager's philosophy versus another's values. Gaelic football's future is in the hands of the managers. Whether club or county the players will play the way they are coached, brainwashed and instructed, good or bad. The manager decides all. Daire Whelan covers everything within the 360 pages of this superb read, The Managers. Fans, players and would be managers either club or county will devour it. I did. It was certainly my cup of tea.

Radio Kerry - The Voice of the Kingdom