Last Sunday the Galway hurlers got back to doing what they do best; they beat Cork comprehensively in their first National League game under their new manager Michael Donoghue.
Some might remember just weeks after last year’s defeat by Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final the players requested that a new manager be put in place and they had, as a squad, no confidence in the then manager Anthony Cunningham.
The county board did not listen to the undercurrent from the players and ratified Cunningham for another year in charge. The Galway players decided then they had no choice but to go public and the saga grew. In the end Cunningham resigned his post but not before having a major go at the players and at members of the media.
Anthony Cunningham or no other manager should be subjected to such treatment, especially by those he had done his best for. After all he brought them within 35 minutes of lifting the Liam McCarthy Cup.
But that was not enough; the players wanted more; they demanded more. No longer are players willing to stand back and just do what they are told; they want to be part and parcel of the process to make sure that nothing is left undone to give them the best opportunity to reach their goals.
Where did this all start? Many would suggest the influence of college football and hurling. Colleges, for a long time before county teams, had the best coaches, physical trainers and facilities to prepare teams to be at their best. It would only be natural that players would carry all this learning with them and introduce it to their county or club teams. But what was the spur for players to actually force their manager’s hand.
One of the biggest earthquakes ever to hit the GAA world was the Cork hurlers’ strike of 2002. Again I will jog your memory. The Cork hurlers were unhappy with the medical care and the overall conditions they had to endure, plus they wanted a change in management.The GAA old guard were in total denial that such a thing could happen and tried to force their hand but the Rebels were not for turning. Every man stood by what they felt was required for them to put Cork hurling back on the map. The media had a field day and many of the old guard felt that player power was getting out of hand.
The GAA had never witnessed anything like this and while many would have hoped they would have folded the year after and succumb to the pressure, they didn’t and were unfortunate to lose the 2003 All-Ireland final to Kilkenny by a single score.
Out of the settlement with the Cork county board the manager they felt was right for them at the time was put in place and they went on to win back-to-back All-Irelands in 2004 and 2005.
There have been plenty of instances since that; players from other counties have resorted to similar action of making sure they got the manager that they knew would put in place the conditions and supports that every county team now has, strength and conditioning coaches, medical staff, forwards and defensive coaches, a goalkeeper coach, kicking coaches, a kit man; the list is endless. You name it, they have it. Long gone is the day of a manager and a couple of selectors to help him on their way.
There are more backroom staff now than players on the touchline on match days and if you are not someone who believes in the present format you can forget about taking part at the top level. It is simply the perception that if you have all these things in place you have a better chance.
The daily life of an intercounty manager has changed dramatically in the last ten years. Many of the young managers have brought along with them the many years of college education and medical science and incorporated it into the sporting arena to make players better, fitter, stronger than ever before. No cost is spared; where will it stop?
While it may be the run of the mill for county teams to have all this in place, clubs are now under pressure to make sure that their players have the same supports. The day of a couple of training sessions during the week and a game at the weekend are long gone. Everyone has to get a diet sheet, a strength and conditioning programme. You will be weighed on a constant basis; you will be checked for deficiencies in your energy levels. Nothing is left unchecked. You would have to ask the question where will it all stop?
We have underage players being asked to follow strict regimes of training and diet from the age of 15. Do managers really believe that this is going to make the difference whether they’re successful or not? Does having all the backups in place guarantee success and if your county or club does not reach the expectations that are set, is it really the manager’s fault?