GAA Review 2012 – The Year of Big Jim and the Cult of the Manager

Posted: January 1, 2013 in GAA
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MOST years are defined by a moment, a player or a team, rarely is it defined by a manager. 2012 was the year of Jim McGuinness.

The cult of the manager has been on the rise again in the last few years. Brian Clough was the original of the species when he took Derby County and their neighbours Nottingham Forest from modest footings to unimaginable heights in the days when things like that were possible in professional sport. Clough was seen as an enemy of football by many at the time for his outspoken ways. One of his modern day counterparts Jose Mourinho, has followed a similar trajectory of controversy matched only by success.

In the GAA there have been managers who were cult figures within the game. Mick O’Dwyer brought the game of football to new heights with the unparalleled fitness of his great Kerry teams. He was the master of deflecting pressure away from them too. However, those Kerry teams contained stars in every line, generational players who left a legacy in the game. O’Dwyer never had to be the real star of the show.

Sean Boylan, John O’Mahony, Paidi O’Se, Joe Kernan and Mickey Harte won All – Irelands and in the case of the last two, broke the mould in terms of ways to play the game. None of them though ever garnered more attention than their team or their star men. This year Donegal weren’t winning matches, Jimmy was.

Maybe it’s his tactics, his youth, talent or the controversies, it’s likely that it’s all four combined in a new age of GAA coverage. In the last year there has been an explosion in the amount of coverage given to Gaelic Games; about time too because the need is there. Blogs, podcasts, online sports sites and Newstalks GAA coverage has given RTE’s the kick in the arse it so badly needed.

This modern age of coverage needed a modern manager and they found its poster boy in McGuinness. Villified by the press after the semi – final defeat in 2011 for crimes against Gaelic Football, he then dropped his captain Kevin Cassidy after an interview he gave to Declan Bogue during that campaign. Nobody likes a loser and especially not an ugly, disloyal one. The press and the online masses had their enemy and as in all classic sporting stories, cue the comeback.

As Donegal steamrolled their way through Ulster and set their sights further south, their new more adventurous style of play was gathering admiring glances. The man vilified twelve months ago was now being hailed as the Messiah and Donegal, almost inevitably in the end, went on to claim the ultimate prize.

Their achievement is unique in GAA terms in that it was not on the back of an exceptionally large and talented new generation of players, but rather a bunch of players young and old who wholeheartedly and unconditionally bought into Jim McGuinness’s way of life and football. This is what makes it one of if not the greatest managerial achievement in the history of Gaelic Football.

As like most cult managers, he too has a muscular ego and unfortunately it came to light in a not so flattering way. The refusal to begin the post match press conference until Declan Bogue had left the room, smacked of wrong time, wrong place. Like Mourinho taking his medal and then walking of the pitch after Porto’s Champions League victory, it served only to take away from his players achievements.

His appointment by Celtic is recognition of the impact he has made in just two years. It’s difficult to imagine it happening to any other manager in the GAA. Considering the commitment he demanded from Kevin Cassidy and the rest of his players it’ll be interesting to see what impact it has on his involvement with Donegal in 2013.

What his appointment means for the GAA in general is minimal. As a national and mainly Irish organisation we are insecure about our footing within the wider sporting world. This is why we get a warm fuzzy feeling when Alan Shearer tweets about how mental hurling is or finding validation in the mighty Celtic seeing one of our own worthy of appointment. The game of Gaelic Football is worthy to take it’s a place beside any field sport in the world.

As worthwhile an exercise as Eugene McGee football review committee was, it does show the insecurity there is about our game. Aside from the clarification of the advantage rule and the increase in the penalty for descent, the rest are unnecessary and born out of misty eyed sentiment of a bygone and not so glorious era. There needs to be a realisation that the game is evolving naturally as every other.

2012 was also the year Seanie Johnston realised his dream of playing club hurling in Kildare and all of Mayo got very mad at Joe Brolly when all we really want is his approval. It was a good year for Ballaghderreen, Charlestown and The Neale, while few had as cruel a finish to a year as Ardnaree. Next year has to be theirs.

We lost a GAA icon in Paidi O’Se who was always a believer in Mayo football; unfortunately we fell just short again. Was it a missed opportunity or stepping stone to what will be the greatest day of all? One or two new introductions might be all it takes. Here’s hoping.


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