Ciarán Murphy: Liam Cahill’s loyalty at odds with Kildare wantaway Jack O’Connor

Lilywhites weren’t lucky to have Kerry man - they were supposed to be a union of equals

Liam Cahill has spent most of the last 10 years of his life preparing for the moment when he would be announced as Tipperary senior hurling manager.

He managed the county's minors, he managed the Under-21 team, and then the Under-20s, and won All-Ireland titles at all three grades. He had served his time. When Tipperary chose Liam Sheedy as their next manager in 2018, he must have been bitterly disappointed.

But when Cahill took the Waterford manager’s job in September 2019, he realised that was his job now. When he asked his players to train and to play for their county, his words had to mean something. He had to show a commitment to them and they had to reciprocate.

This is how sport should work, and it probably shouldn’t have been so surprising when he announced last month that, even though he was almost everyone’s favourite for the now-vacant Tipperary senior hurling manager’s job, he would stay with Waterford.

As he said himself in his statement at that time, the Waterford players’ “dedication and loyalty left a deep impression on both of us (he and his coach Michael Bevans) for whom loyalty is paramount.”

I have tried to come up with a more cynical reason for this decision, and I cannot. The fact of the matter is that when he said he had unfinished business with this Waterford team, he truly meant it.

The statement he released was careful to emphasise just how badly he wants to manage Tipperary in the future, but he must also have known that the Tipperary hurlers of the near-future would be reading that statement too.

Liam Cahill will surely manage Tipperary in the near future. And when he stands in front of that squad for the first time, in three or four or six years, he’ll be able to demand loyalty from those players, because they’ve seen him show real loyalty to his dressingroom last month.

Loyalty

Loyalty is a word that’s easy to say, and not so easy to demonstrate.

Two days after Liam Cahill’s announcement, Tyrone beat Kerry in the All-Ireland football semi-final. A day after that, Jack O’Connor, the former Kerry football manager, appeared on the Irish Examiner GAA podcast and told host Paul Rouse - “of course, there is an allure there. Who doesn’t want to coach Man United?

“Look, the Kerry gig is a fantastic job. It’s a very challenging job but would you want to be anywhere else in many ways because the tradition is here… If you want an easy life, you go coach somewhere else.”

And Jack should know, because at that moment he already was coaching somewhere else. He was still the Kildare football manager, still living ‘the easy life’, but not for long.

The following week, he decided that commute from south Kerry really was pretty taxing after all - and he stepped away, notwithstanding the fact that plans were already at an advanced stage for him to continue as Kildare coach in 2022. Who knows? Peter Keane’s difficulty might be another man’s opportunity.

When you hire a manager from outside your club or your county, it’s always implied that this is not the job they’re ultimately dreaming of. But there is also a countervailing implication that if you show loyalty to them, they will show loyalty to you, within reason.

What does ‘within reason’ mean, in this case? In Cahill’s case, not many people would have held it against him if he had left the Waterford job, because he’d been building his whole coaching career to this moment.

In O’Connor’s case, he’s already had the chance in his dream job - twice. Unlike Cahill with Waterford, his situation with Kildare had been reported in late August as resolved for 2022. Kildare can reasonably be very annoyed.

Division 1

And he was not managing a team in Division 4. Kildare are a serious football county, who will be playing in Division 1 next year.

They’re in Division 1 at least in part because of O’Connor’s work, but they lost the Leinster final having barely taken a shot at a Dublin team that had already shown in their previous game against Meath the vulnerabilities that Mayo would exploit in the subsequent All-Ireland semi-final.

The job was nowhere near finished, and Kildare had every right to expect O’Connor to stick around. If he really is intent on going for the Kerry job, he’s got nothing more to prove, and in any case many down there would see his return to the job as a retrograde step.

Among the people who feel like maybe leaving their current job to go and ‘coach Man United’ would be poor form, are the coaches of the other clubs in the top quarter of the premier league, which is where Kildare are in relative terms.

Kildare weren’t lucky to have O’Connor; they were a union of equals. And Jack O’Connor did not treat that partnership with the respect it deserved.

The next time he sets foot in a dressingroom and talks to a group of players, in Kerry or elsewhere, he’d do well to recognise that those players might remember these last few weeks too.

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