WHAT can only be described as a tsunami that has swept away managers has hit the inter-county hurling scene with team bosses departing in huge numbers. The Bainisteoir bib will be worn by many new faces in 2012, and they are in for a challenging journey.
We are accustomed to managers coming and going at the conclusion of every championship, but, for whatever reason, hurling managers have fallen like nine-pins recently. A few departures were expected, but a number of others did raise eyebrows!
The departure of a team manager can sometimes be the signal for upheaval in a county. The smart counties leave the task of picking a new manager to a small committee whose sole agenda is getting the best person to fill the role.
Kilkenny has not had to worry about picking a new senior hurling team manager for years. It looks like this will not hit the agenda of the County Board officers for a few years yet. Oh, how the rest of the country (football counties included) must envy our fortunate position.
Where does one start when trying to analyse the tsunami? Some big names have hit the deck and bade farewell to the inter-county scene, most likely never to return.
Donal O’Grady gave up a lucrative TV analyst role to bring some order to Limerick hurling and, in that regard, his one year term was a success. Winning the Division 2 title was expected, but it turned out to be a difficult championship with a lone success against Wexford and defeats to Waterford and Dublin.
The Shannonsiders could, and perhaps should, have won both those games, but they never managed to master the short-ball game for which O’Grady is renowned.
Not ideal situation
The Cork man did say at the outset that he would only stay for one year, but it is hardly an ideal situation for Limerick given the progress made under O’Grady. The expectation is that one of O’Grady’s back-room team will move into the managerial hot-seat.
Denis Walsh stepped into the breach in Cork at a turbulent time and perhaps in hindsight he should have been more radical with the side he inherited from Gerald McCarthy. Sean Óg Ó hAilpín was the only well-known player to depart, but Walsh did bring a number of talented young players into his squad.
The new Cork boss, Jimmy Barry Murphy, is returning to a scene he knows well, but one that has changed considerably from the last time he wore the Bainisteoir’s bib. As we saw with this year’s under-21 championship, Cork has some excellent emerging talent, so they may not be that far off reclaiming former glories.
Galway senior hurling had a forgettable 2012 and it got worse last week when John McIntyre resigned as team manager. His departure was not a surprise, as his term as manager promised a lot more than it delivered.
Failure down to players
Galway’s failure was ultimately down to a group of players who hit few ‘highs’ but many ‘lows’ during McIntyre’s reign. The Tipperary native was smart enough to realise that a mood for change had started in Galway once the side lost to Waterford.
It is hard not to feel a little pity for a manager who enjoyed little luck in his managerial roles with Offaly and Galway. Anthony Cunningham, fresh from his under-21 managerial success, is probably in pole position to be the next Galway manager.
The possibility of Davy Fitzgerald following in the footsteps of his former manager, Ger Loughnane and assuming the Galway managerial role has also been muted. Fitzgerald’s odds may have lengthened with Cunningham’s under-21 success, but the Clare man may have an ace up his sleeve in Cyril Farrell. They worked closely together (very successfully too) at Limerick IT over a number of years, so why not together in Galway?
Davy Fitzgerald’s name is also being linked with the vacancy in Clare. He has long craved the manager’s role in his native county, but knew that he would have to bide his time.
Maybe now is not the ideal time for Fitzgerald. It may be the only opportunity he will get for the foreseeable future to manage his native county.
Clare has plenty of good hurlers, but whoever takes the job in the Banner County has a major task to restore the glory days of the mid-nineties. Fitzgerald is an excellent coach, but he needs a strong assistant to handle the intricacies of management.
His former role in Waterford is likely to be filled by a Waterford-native. Former star Fergal Hartley is strongly tipped to take the reins. All-Ireland success may have eluded Davy Fitzgerald, but his time in Waterford would have to be deemed a huge success.
Fergal Hartley will bring a very different style of management to the Déise. He is fortunate to have plenty of excellent hurlers in the county.
Still, managers like hurlers, are judged on results. Hartley knows that even matching Fitzgerald’s record will hardly be enough to satisfy Waterford supporters.
In Leinster the managerial tsunami has been no less dramatic. Wexford hurling is, sadly, at a low ebb and the problem for any new manager is a lack of talent. This year’s under-21 side contained a couple of excellent hurlers and they will get an opportunity to impress in next year’s National League.
Colm Bonner made an honest effort to lift the gloom in Wexford, but he cut a forlorn figure when Wexford lost to Limerick earlier in the summer.
Lack of under-age success over many years is at the heart of Wexford’s difficulties. The task facing the new team manager is a monumental one.
The prospects of playing in Division 2 of the League in 2012 (once again) do Wexford no favours. I would love to be proved wrong, but it is hard to be positive about Wexford’s prospects over the next few years.
Offaly are also on the look-out for a new manager following the departure of Joe Dooley. The former star did a great job with the players at his disposal.
His successor will inherit a side containing some fine hurlers, but overall the county is a little short on talent.
The 2011 championship was a forgettable one for Laois with Brendan Fennelly departing the scene in utter frustration. The O’Moore County will look from within for a replacement, but the biggest problem is to unearth sufficient players (not just the few they had this year) with a bit of pride in the county jersey.
Antrim lost the services of Dinny Cahill, for the second time, in the past few weeks. Attracting a top coach is always a huge problem for the Glensmen, mainly due to its distance from hurling’s heartland.
Antrim’s club rivalry has often been a hindrance to its inter-county progress, but Cahill had a knack (most of the time) of getting the best of out of his players.
Dublin and Tipperary will soldier on in 2012 with the same managerial personnel. Anthony Daly can look back on a great year, but it could have been so much better had he been a little braver in the closing quarter against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final.
His greatest disappointment, though, may well be the subdued displays of the Dublin minor and under-21 teams in their respective All-Ireland finals. The two sides had talent in abundance, but failed miserably to Galway.
Those defeats pose questions about Dublin’s emerging talent.
For our neighbours across the border in Tipperary, 2012 could well be a defining year for the players and team management. Declan Ryan and Tommy Dunne are talented coaches, but they must develop a ruthless streak with their players.
And that bring us back to Kilkenny! Thirteen years on and it is true to say that Brian Cody is the last man(ager) standing - well almost.