Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Right Royal Mess

In years to come, some opportunistic self-help guru will surely publish a book and conduct a nationwide tour entitled "Fielding the High Ball: Secrets of GAA Success", in an effort to tap into the demented yearning within the good people of middle Ireland for emotional Septembers with booze-filled cups winding their way through exultant villages.

The sagacious person in question will couch his exhortations with a cautionary tale: a chapter entitled "Meath: a lesson in what not to do"....

As this is the GAA inter-county off-season, the oxygen of publicity from the national papers has whipped gale-like around the Eamonn Barry affair in the Royal County in the absence of on-field league or championship action. Although we are not unused to county board fiascos and back-room skullduggery, this affair's significance is partially in how it has underlined how far once mighty Meath have fallen.

In his the closing years of his epoch as Meath manager Sean Boylan came to resemble that other wilting emperor, Alex Ferguson. Enshrined and protected by the phenomenal legacy of his achievement and his charismatic persona, Boylan, like Ferguson, seemed impotent in the face of the reality of coping with the inferior armoury of talent at his disposal, when compared to the gleaming arsenal of his heyday.

However Meath's demise since their hammering by Galway in the 2001 All-Ireland final has, if anything, been much more sudden and devastating. They appear so far away from reentering the winners enclosure they last graced in 1999 that they are now being firmly reclassed amid the lower tiers of Gaelic Football. This is a chastening reality for the Royal county, who walked so tall for most of Boylan's 23 year tenure.

The farcical and hugely damaging events of recent weeks suggest it will be some time before they regain their elite status. Certainly Eamonn Barry appears the quintessential lame duck manager, his authority surely terminally diminished by the "binding framework" forced on him by the county board. Indeed, the only thing likely to be binding about this fiasco is the figurative noose now placed around Barry's neck.

Barry may have received justified criticism for a slight lack of diplomacy in nominating to his staff two persons, physio Dermot Rogers and Barry's brother Martin, whose appointment would prove difficult for the county brass to stomach. However, as John O'Mahony recently pointed out in reflecting on his successful time as Galway manager, high achievement in inter-county management can only come with the full and unconditional support of the county board.

Full and unconditional support. Position that phrase next to such gems from the board diktat, sorry "binding framework", as:

-All officers of Meath County Board... are deserving of respect regardless of who they are.

"I demand to have some respect around here!"

-The Chairman and secretary are entitled to be present in Meath dressing rooms as well as at meetings, games and training sessions

Sounds a bit like when the inspector used to come to the school - "Children! behave!!"

- The relevant county official will supply jerseys and kit... and they will be collected after each game by the kitman and a county official for return to Meath County Board.

"Lads, I'm missing a sock here. Now come on Geraghty, hand it over, I know what you're up to..."

Is it the case that after 23 years of Boylan hegemony the county board in Meath have gotten drunk, nay, rotten paralytically pissed on their new found absolute power? Whatever. Eamonn Barry should have walked away from this one, not only for the sake of his own dignity, but for the long term good of his county. That those in charge remain unable to see the wood of success for the trees of internecine squabbling marks this job as a poisoned chalice.

When sounded out previously about his interest in the job, Colm O'Rourke, a figure reaching the status of exiled messiah the more his county suffers, stipulated far-reaching conditions which would need to be met were he to accept the position. These included root and branch reform of the youth system, serious investment in developing an elite culture and the instigation of three year terms for management (as opposed to the annual review currently in place). O'Rourke's absence from the recent succession contest suggests these measures - essential if the county is to even approach its former glory - are nowhere near implementation. One imagines that the will to implement them is also absent.

Barry, and any other candidate, would be better serving Meath by having nothing to do with the bizarre junta which emasculated him last Monday night.


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