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FAI better off hiring John O’Shea than an average journeyman manager from elsewhere

Gus Poyet’s comments hardly suggest a man for whom being fiercely loyal is important

The FAI’s hunt for a new manager will soon enter its sixth month, and John O’Shea’s stint as interim head coach has not given us any definitive answers.

They may well have hoped that two positive results against Belgium and the Swiss would take it out of their hands, but the FAI are no closer today than they were last Friday to announcing their man – it now looks like we will get white smoke on the week starting April 8th – and they are left instead with a dilemma common to every GAA unit in the country. Do they go with an inexperienced star of yesteryear from their own club, or a journeyman of questionable standing?

I’m not sure where the FAI’s search currently lies on the GAA spectrum. But the decision-making process is closer to the GAA’s way of doing business than elite high-performance proponents that director of football Mark Canham might like to admit.

If you have a high-class up-and-coming candidate from your own club or county, you hire them and you give them everything they need to win. That’s the dream scenario: let’s call it the “Lee Carsley scenario”.


That’s not always, or even often the case though. Most of the time, GAA clubs and counties are left with the exact same decision the FAI now finds themselves in.

They currently appear to have a small cohort of experienced football names from around the world with average records, which nonetheless constitute a record. A critical mass of games, hirings and sackings that say “I am an average professional football coach”. Not good, not ... just average.

There are jobs that high-quality coaches get, and these guys are not in the running for them. But you’re not offering them a high-quality job. You’re offering them this job. And if it all goes to pot, then the name of your organisation will just be a footnote on the ever-growing list of organisations that they thought they might whip into shape.

That’s the coaching profession. You get a tune from some dressingrooms and not others. Fellahs like that they can’t afford to lose too much sleep over why their last job went wrong, because they’re on the hunt for their next one.

Never was this more clear than when Gus Poyet did a round of interviews with Irish media last month, organised by a drinks company, while he was still the Greece football manager. “Tawdry” is too strong a word for it, but it hardly suggested a man for whom fierce loyalty to one’s current employers was a key touchstone of their character.

And if the Uruguayan FA come knocking for Poyet after Ireland win their first eighth games under him, let’s not be too surprised if he jumps ship (in this hypothetical situation we will, at least, have won eight games in a row.)

The FAI would be in a better position to give it to a seasoned journeyman in the Poyet mould if their leadership structure was on a more stable footing. But when you consider that the FAI’s current chief executive’s job seems to be hanging by a thread, with one of the key criticisms of him being that he couldn’t be bothered to move to this country three-and-a-half years after getting the job, maybe handing another key position in Irish football to someone with what might pass for a lukewarm commitment to the game here would be seen in a more negative light.

The alternative is to hire one of your ex-players with a light CV, for whom this will nevertheless be one of the most important jobs they’ll ever do.

Watching Gaelic football for the last few months, it was clear how deeply Kildare’s Glenn Ryan, Meath’s Colm O’Rourke and Cork’s John Cleary (to name just three) felt their team’s losses.

It hurt them on a visceral level. They might not have felt very insulated at times this spring, but their record as players did buy them some time and space. They were exemplars of effort and dedication as players, and people knew instinctively that they cared.

For all Stephen Kenny’s failings as a manager, no one could accuse him of not caring. But what he didn’t have was pedigree as a player, and his record as a coach in domestic Irish football wasn’t enough to protect him.

Hiring a manager is often a direct reaction to what didn’t work with the last guy. So by that metric, Shamrock Rovers’ multi-title-winning coach Stephen Bradley suffers. Shelbourne manager Damien Duff’s candidacy, notwithstanding the fact he was also one of our greatest-ever players, may also have been collateral damage. As far as the FAI are concerned, the League of Ireland is not a breeding ground for future Ireland ... at least, not this time around.

And so Duff’s former team-mate John O’Shea, by any metric a far less experienced coach, finds himself the last Irishman standing. He is far less experienced than Kenny was too, of course, but he is at least a “personality” hire, in that his playing career was one of this country’s most decorated.

Football is a professional game, and there are some that would roll their eyes at the suggestion you can overcome tactical naivete by just caring about it more than the other fellah. Maybe that’s the GAA person in me. But the choice isn’t as clear as that. In a world where either decision is risky, why not give it to the fellah for whom the job will mean the world?