Earley’s selection as Ireland coach for next two series a surprise but credentials are impressive


Yesterday’s news that Paul Earley has been appointed manager of Ireland’s International Rules challenge for the next two series came as a surprise to many but the former Roscommon All Star’s credentials are impressive.

His appointment is, nonetheless, a departure from previous practice, with coaches largely recruited under two headings: International Rules experience or being former All-Ireland winning managers.

Colm O’Rourke is the only one of his predecessors not to have ticked either box but in what might be an encouraging precedent the former Meath footballer of the year and RTÉ pundit has the best record of any Ireland coach, with series wins in both of his two years in charge, 1998 and ’99.

In fact, the new appointment has a couple of things in common with O’Rourke’s: both played for Ireland during the initial series of the 1980s and Earley is also a television analyst, with Setanta, and was on duty only the other night during the opening league double bill at Croke Park.

Like his immediate predecessor Anthony Tohill, Earley – who becomes the first international manager from Connacht – was also on the books of AFL club Melbourne Demons. He was the first Irish player to feature in an AFL match, his one and only appearance in 1984 having played with the reserves after his recruitment in 1983.

Two of his clubmates from Ireland, Seán Wight and Jim Stynes – both of whom passed away in only their 40s – went on to have long and successful careers with Melbourne but Earley decided against staying and returned to Ireland at the beginning of 1985.

“Melbourne is a fantastic club,” he told this newspaper at the time, “and treated me very well. It was a great experience and I loved every minute of it but Melbourne is a long way from home.”

One of his wishes was to play for Roscommon before his older brother Dermot wrapped up his legendary career and this he did to such effect he earned an All Star in the year of his return and two years later was selected by Eugene McGee to play in the 1987 International Rules series, which Ireland lost.

Won Connacht

He featured on the Roscommon sides that won Connacht in 1990 and ’91 before going back to Australia in the mid-1990s with his family to work in Sydney for a couple of years.

At that time, Ron Barassi – a pioneer of International Rules and who had been his coach at Melbourne – was a director of the local Sydney Swans.

They renewed acquaintances and Earley began to attend matches and got to know coach Rodney Eade, coincidentally the Australia coach in the 2011 series, and a few players, including one he played against in 1987, Paul Roos, who had actually been sent off in that year’s third Test.

Later Earley spoke to the young Tadhg Kennelly about the possibility of being recruited by Sydney after the club had identified him as a prospect.

An immensely personable individual with evident communication skills he is likely to be an asset to the GAA, particularly in the scheduled away series next year, with his background in both games and media experience.

His technical credentials are wide-ranging. As well as coaching club teams, he stepped in after the resignation of John Maughan five years ago as caretaker Roscommon manager at the end of the league, taking the team to its only win of the season, insufficient as that was to stave off relegation from Division Two.

He is also a tutor in Level Two coaching courses, making him one of the association’s most technically qualified coaches and has been serving on the Football Review Committee, chaired by Eugene McGee, which has forwarded proposed reforms to next month’s congress.

Played in Ulster

This year’s series will begin on October 19th, with the first Test to be played in Ulster. This month’s management committee meeting will decide the venue but although Kingspan Breffni Park has been speculated on, according to Croke Park sources no decision until the report of the National Infrastructure Committee, which has been asked to assess the options.

A week later, on October 26th , the second Test will take place in Croke Park.

The international project is currently under pressure after an uncompetitive and poorly attended series in Australia 15 months ago and the next two years will decide whether it has a long-term future.

A media conference, scheduled for yesterday, had to be postponed following the death of Earley’s mother but in the weeks ahead he is expected to outline his plans and name the back-up team.

International Rules Managers and records

1984: (Selection committee)

Peter McDermott (Meath), Liam Sammon (Galway), Jody O’Neill (Tyrone)

Australia win series 2-1

1986: Kevin Heffernan (Dublin)

Ireland win series 2-1

1987: Eugene McGee (Longford)

Australia win series 2-1

1990: Eugene McGee (Longford)

Ireland win series 2-1

1990-98: Series in abeyance

Resumed internationals – two-test series

1998: Colm O’Rourke (Meath)

Series drawn 1-1, Ireland win on aggregate (128-118)

1999: Colm O’Rourke (Meath)

Ireland win 1-0 with one drawn

2000: Brian McEniff (Donegal)

Australia win 2-0

2001: Brian McEniff (Donegal)

Ireland win 2-0

2002: John O’Keeffe (Kerry)

Australia win 1-0 with one drawn

2003: John O’Keeffe (Kerry)

Series drawn 1-1, Australia win on aggregate (101-94)

2004: Peter McGrath (Down)

Ireland win 2-0

2005: Peter McGrath (Down)

Australia win 2-0

2006: Seán Boylan (Meath)

Series drawn, Australia win on aggregate (109-79)

2007: Internationals suspended

2008: Seán Boylan (Meath)

Ireland win 2-0

Move to three-year cycle

2010: Anthony Tohill (Derry)

Australia win 2-0

2011: Anthony Tohill (Derry)

Ireland win 2-0

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