Battered and bruised but Banty is still unbowed
Players perform for Séamus McEnaney eventually – no matter how much drama he trails in his wake, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
Trouble, trouble, I try to chase trouble but it’s chasing me.
Trouble, trouble, Trouble with a capital T.
Horslips, The Book Of Invasions (1976)
IN A way, nothing foretold the bumps in the road ahead of Séamus McEnaney as Meath manager better than his very nomination for the role. His name went forward at the end of September 2010, just a few weeks after Monaghan had thanked him for his time and pointed him at the exit.
The Meath job sounded like the perfect pick-me-up for Banty just then – big stage, good players, tradition going back generations. Yet if ever there was a tip-off that he should have turned on his heel and left them at it, it surely came when he found out he was one of 13 names that had made it onto the ballot.
It’s like that old racing saying – if you think you have four horses in your yard capable of winning the Derby, you almost certainly don’t have one. If the good people of Meath thought they had 13 men worth nominating for manager of the county team, then it didn’t say much for the prospects of whoever would eventually make it through.
The process of whittling those 13 names down to one took seven weeks and he had to listen to some pretty ugly chat along the way. Former manager Eamon Barry declared Banty’s CV was “no great shakes” and warned that the clubs of Meath would not accept him. Three weeks after they did just that, Barry was appointed to the county board. If McEnaney had walked there and then, he’d have saved himself a good 18 months of ever-spiralling strife.
Ah, but would he have been happy? Ever since he began to find his feet as an intercounty manager, he’s never given the impression of being particularly attracted by the quiet life.
Drama follows him like a bad rumour, to the extent he often appears to thrive on it. Be it playing Darren Hughes in goal for Monaghan in 2010 ahead of regular sub-goalkeeper Seán Gorman (and only telling Gorman on the morning of the game he wouldn’t be playing) or plucking Graham Geraghty out of retirement at the age of 38 without informing his Meath selectors, he has consistently shown a willingness to rock any and all boats that sail by.
When it works out, it’s all just part of his appeal. When Monaghan made the Ulster final two years ago, Gorman’s snubbing and subsequent leaving of the county panel was largely forgotten about.
The fact Geraghty very nearly turned last year’s Leinster quarter-final with his first touch of a ball in three years, palming a goal that shouldn’t have been disallowed, at the very least legitimised the move to bring him into the squad. But the upshot of all the drama is that invariably when the credits roll, there are bodies strewn all over the place.
Anthony Moyles left the Meath panel last winter after 12 years of toil. His time didn’t end well and he wouldn’t say he left on especially good terms with McEnaney. But for all that, he points out that even in the Monaghan man’s short time in the job, aspects of Meath’s preparation improved beyond recognition.