Happy with a life more ordinary as these boys of summer winter well
A trio of former intercounty managers are now enjoying life, writes MALACHY CLERKIN
In the summer they were astronauts, strapped to the rocket and headed for wherever it was going. No longer though. They’re civilians again, earthbound Johnny Punch-Clocks like the rest of us. They were intercounty managers and now they’re not. The job is still with them to some extent but it’s a fading tattoo. The phone doesn’t have smoke coming out of it any more, the tyres on the car see wear without tear.
A life more ordinary – not forever necessarily, but at least for now.
Intercounty management is a Pac-Man, chomping away at every other morsel of your life that it can. When Jason Ryan started with Wexford in 2008, he still managed to keep up a bit of football with his club De La Salle in Waterford. When he started with Wexford in 2008, there was him and his wife and that was as far as his family tree branched.
In the space of four years, there came along two bouncing additions which led to one inevitable subtraction. By the time he finished up with Wexford, he’d hardly kicked a ball with De La Salle for two years.
So it was with gusto unconfined that he returned to training with the club in August. Still only 36, he had lost time to make up for and no lack of shape with which to make it up. Yet no sooner had he come back than said gusto became all too confined all too quickly. On his first night back, he tore his cruciate. Cue an operation, crutches, the full works.
“That was it – gone,” he says. “The club were great, there was no hassle with me coming back and then the very first night, the cruciate went. I had intended get right back into it but I got an operation eight weeks ago so that’s it gone by the wayside now again.”
So he’s not a player and he’s not a manager. He’ll always be a coach – half his work is PE teaching, the other half is a coaching course in Dungarvan – but just for now, he’s at nobody in particular’s beck or call.
“On Monday I was delivering a coaching course in Waterford for Coaching Ireland. And every other night this week, I will have zero commitments. It’s great, it’s given me other avenues to explore. I’d be fairly needy as an individual with regards to trying to get information on stuff to do with coaching and for the last few years, the idea of upskilling for coaching and management was just a non-runner. Even if Wexford’s season finished in July, you were straight into county championship then and you were looking at talent for the following year.”
This time last year, life was manic. He was recruiting players, trying to sell them Wexford football above Wexford hurling. He was playing trial matches and presenting plans to the county board. He was fund-raising at every turn, just so they could bank enough for a training weekend somewhere. At one stage, they put on a fund-raising soccer match against Wexford Youths but couldn’t get insurance because neither the FAI nor the GAA would cover them for the game. Headache upon headache and the season still months off in the distance. Yet he feels the loss of it, no point pretending otherwise.
“I’m happy right now but I’m missing what’s going on. I am getting the chance to taste slightly different things. I’ve had a chance to coach a bit more with various club teams and whatever. Sometimes when you’re managing, you miss out on the bit of coaching because you don’t take as much of the sessions as you’d like.”
A week or two ago, the word round the campfire was he was all set to move into the coaching slot at Kieran McGeeney’s right hand vacated by new Waterford manager Niall Carew. He won’t confirm it and he won’t deny it.
“I’ve spoken to different teams about different things but at the moment I’m looking forward to a week of relaxing on the sofa on home.
“I’m not involved with anybody at the moment, put it that way. I would like to see myself getting the opportunity again in the future. I certainly haven’t finished with coaching. I didn’t stop with Wexford because I’d had enough or anything like that. I loved it. I was living the dream.”
He’ll live it again. Nobody imagines he’s stood on his last intercounty sideline.
Jack O’Connor For longer than was strictly enjoyable, Jack O’Connor gorged on football. To the point in fact where it gorged on him. One way or the other, they’d had their fill of each other by the time he and Kerry parted company in the late summer aftermath of a third successive year without an All-Ireland. Winter brought detox. Cold turkey detox.
“I’ve been at very few matches, club championship or anything. And that was deliberate because it’s a kind of a drug, really. You’re almost addicted to the whole thing. And I think that the best way to beat the habit is to try and get away from it, so I haven’t been to any football matches, really. It’s good to see life outside of football as well.
“You’re mentally more relaxed now because it’s like being off duty. The thing with intercounty management is that there are no parameters to it. There is so much extra that you could do if you had the time.
“You could meet players, pick their brains, pick other people’s brains and there’s no end to it if you feel like it. You can make the job as broad or as narrow as you think will bring success. So of course when that goes, you feel a bit of a void in your life. But you have to try to find other things to fill that.”
For the most part, he’s filled it with Patrick Kavanagh’s habitual and banal. He’s done a bit of work on the golf swing and when the weather starts behaving itself again he’ll do a bit more. He was only part-time at work for the past two years but he’s gone back full-time now, which brings its own joys.
Above all else, the worth of a Saturday morning with no-one to see and no-one to be reveals itself anew with each passing weekend.
It’s not that the Kerry job was a burden; it’s just that he’s glad it’s someone else’s weight to carry for a while.
“I wouldn’t want to give the impression that it’s anything but a fantastic job. It’s demanding but it makes you feel alive. That’s the thing about it – it calls for every bit of you but it’s still the best job in the world. You’re carrying the hopes of a whole county and there’s some buzz in that. You miss that buzz when it’s gone. Your life can be a bit humdrum without it. But every now and again, you need to get away from it to get a bit of perspective.”
And the future? Itching to get back in amongst it again?
“Ah not really, no. Not really. I definitely have my mind made up to take at least a year of a complete break from it. It makes sense to recharge the batteries because it’s so demanding. You’re doing a lot of it on adrenaline and when the job stops, the adrenaline stops as well. I was pretty tired at the end of it. There’s a physical toll involved. You don’t feel it when you’re doing it because of the adrenaline involved but when you come off the roller-coaster it hits you.”
One thing about roller-coasters: they come around again and you can hop back on anytime. You get hit but you don’t always stay hit.
When he starts counting backwards, Luke Dempsey runs out of fingers before he reaches the last year he went without an involvement with one county team or another. He damn near runs out of toes as well.
“Carlow for four years, Longford for four as well. The winter of 2003 I wasn’t with anyone but then Carlow sacked their manager so I went down to them. Westmeath for three years before that, Westmeath under-21s, Westmeath minors. I’d say I could go back to 1994 pretty much uninterrupted.”
Now? Now is for smelling roses. Now is opera singers and Oscar Wilde plays. Now is family and friends and putting in time with the school team at St Joseph’s Rochfortbridge, Co Westmeath. After Christmas, he shoulders a new wheel with Moorefield in Newbridge but for here and for now, it’s the finer things.
“It’s very noticeable how different life is now compared with this time last year. It’s noticeable in school where I’m not arriving in on a Wednesday morning wrecked tired after getting home late from a training session the night before.
“The weekends in particular are so different now. I have much more time to pick and choose what I want to do family-wise. We can have visitors now and go and do things socially. We went to see Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Mullingar Arts Centre last weekend and we were at Regina Nathan the week before. My wife’s sister was home from England so I was able to be there for Sunday. Little things like that, you know?”
Dempsey kinda, sorta tumbled into intercounty management on the back of his work in the school. He isn’t a Jim McGuinness or even a Jason Ryan, always fidgety and forever looking for the new, new thing that will reveal the game’s secrets. But it became his life all the same, despite him and by default.
“You don’t think about it until you stop doing it because it just becomes an integral part of you. I couldn’t do without it either. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in with Moorefield after Christmas.
“Because the thing is, you can get quite bored for not having it, for finding yourself with Tuesday nights and Thursday nights not occupied.
“I’m not the sort that would go and play golf or go swimming or any of that. I suppose you could become that but that’s not the sort of life I choose for myself.
“Going back to club football Kildare will be a sort-of toned down version of the life I had before but I have a lot of friends and relations in Kildare and it’s where I played when I was young. I suppose it’s a scaling down of the life rather than a complete cut-off. The last thing I would want to do is leave it all behind completely.”
As if he could.
As if any of them could.