Critics of GAA managers should have a Harte!
Frank on the perils of team management, the perils of facing Katie Taylor…and the €1.6m pigeon!
Among the many big sports stories that made the news this week (including championship defeats for both the Galway hurlers and footballers – although the hurlers still have a back-door chance – the unbelievable boxing performance from our golden girl Katie Taylor on Saturday night, and a Masters golf win for world number one Dustin Johnson), the stand-out news for me was the effective removal of Micky Harte from his position as manager of the Tyrone football team.
The remarkable thing about the change at the top was not so much that the Tyrone GAA executive turned down Harte’s request for another year at the helm, but rather the fact that any man would want to manage a county team, in either football or hurling, after already being in charge for eighteen years. If there is a more thankless job anywhere, I cannot imagine what it might be. After all, the minute anything goes wrong, the manager is fair game for every type of criticism and abuse.
This week for example, Kerry manager Peter Keane must be wondering what he’s let himself in for with all that’s being said and written about his management and tactics as a result of the Kingdom coming down against arch-rivals, Cork. Keane, a successful businessman, has been talked about in several papers I’ve read this week, and it’s made me wonder what makes a fellow put himself out there and be the target of unwarranted personal abuse – abuse that oftentimes extends to members of his immediate family.
Even this week, I was hearing rumours that Padraig Joyce was being questioned by Galway supporters after a poor return to action after the lockdown. As I write this on Sunday evening, I can only imagine the flak he will have to deal with after losing the Connacht final to Mayo this afternoon.
Over in England, we have high profile managers in charge of Premier League teams, with both the players and bosses earning immoral amounts of money. Meanwhile, our county players and managers all have to report for work on Monday mornings. It is of course worth mentioning that it has been rumoured that some of the managers may be handsomely rewarded for their efforts (although the GAA hierarchy continues to deny it). Even if they are, it is my opinion that no amount of money could compensate them for all the time, effort and commitment the job requires. To all intents and purposes, being manager of a county team is a full-time job.
Twice in my life I have managed the Creggs footballers. Despite all the allegations that are made against all managers regarding their knowledge (or lack thereof), tactics (or lack thereof), picking favourite players and ignoring better ones, and any other perceived weaknesses in the management structure, I must say that for everyone who takes on such a role – from the lowest club team to the top county team – they all have in common the fact that they are doing what they do with the sole intention of trying to make that team better.
It doesn’t always work to plan, but in Micky Harte’s case his record stands right up there with the best of them. On today’s papers, he is ranked up there with Mick O’Dwyer, Kevin Heffernan, Jim Gavin and Sean Boylan. So as he leaves Tyrone behind, he can do so with his head held high. I wish him well in whatever the future holds for him.
On a personal note: during my time as Creggs manager, we won the Tansey Cup (in 2014). I was sure some of the big counties would come calling, but sadly none of them did. As with my playing career, my management career never took off. However, you can tell them not to bother calling now – the job is way too demanding for a man in full-time retirement.
Katie’s opponent Miriam also a hero
While I was very impressed with Katie Taylor and her amazing, punch-perfect performance on Saturday night, I have to acknowledge the extraordinary bravery of her opponent. Miriam Gutierrez managed to make it through the entire fight despite being hit by everything Katie could throw at her for every one of the ten rounds – but it is for her life outside the ring that she is a true hero.
As a victim of domestic violence herself, she has devoted the last thirteen years of her life to work in advocacy and support of victims of such violence. In her early twenties, her then-partner beat her, breaking several bones in her face, all while she was pregnant. As a result, she stepped away from boxing for eighteen months. Eventually she came back to the sport, where she has made a really good career for herself.
In her own words, the effect of domestic violence has been the biggest thing she has had to overcome in her life. She has recently been elected to the Municipal Council in Madrid, where she continues to do her support work for domestic violence victims. After all she has been through, I suppose it’s no wonder that despite Katie throwing the kitchen sink at her, she was still standing proudly at the end of it all.
There is no doubt that for all of us in Ireland, Katie is our hero. However, her Saturday night opponent Miriam Guterrez is, for different reasons, every bit as big a hero. I can only say well done to her – keep up the good work. She probably won’t be a boxing world champion, but in lots of other ways she is a true champion.
Many years ago – not far short of fifty by now – and during my working days in the Bank of Ireland in Dundalk, Vincent Atkinson, the bank porter and a lovely quiet man, kept a pigeon loft at his house, where he bred racing pigeons.
On a couple of occasions he invited a few of us round to see them in their little houses – I think they called them ‘coops’. To tell you the truth, we all thought he was mad. All we could hear was incessant squaking, and all we could see was loads of bird droppings that had to be constantly cleaned.
Vinny, however, loved them. At weekends he would let them off, winging their way all over the place in different races, often to England or mainland Europe. Remarkably, they invariably made it back to Vinny’s house, usually after a couple of days, and whether they won or not he was just so delighted when they made it home.
Whenever an odd one went missing and failed to return, the loss of one of his beloved birds would devastate Vinny for ages. He thought of them as his pets, just as one thinks of their dog or cat, and he loved and minded them as such.
Way back in World War One and World War Two, carrier pigeons of the Racing Horner breed were used to carry important messages. Thirty-two such birds were honoured for their gallantry and devotion to duty, and were awarded the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
Anyways, that was the last I thought of a racing pigeon until today, when I saw that a Belgian bird, called New Kim, was sold at auction last week for €1.6 million to a Chinese buyer (a world record price). I don’t know if the buyer intends to breed or race her, but you would imagine at that price she will be breeding – it would be a bit risky to have her flying round the world with that price tag. I just wonder what Vinny would think if he was still here, about the money that racing pigeons now command.
Finally for this week, I have to tell you that after a good number of years working in the recruitment industry, my young lad Mark (not so young now) has gone out on his own and opened up his own recruitment agency.
The agency, BenchMark Recruitment, is based in Galway, with express aim of finding and placing candidates into the best possible roles with interested companies. His website is benchmarkrecruitment.ie, and if you are looking for a job, or represent a company looking for suitably qualified employees, look him up.
I have sent him on my 35-page CV, and despite what I told you earlier, if he can get me an interview I might just take the Tyrone manager’s job.