Meyler calls time on his county management days
Experienced former Cork boss enthusiastic about new championship structure
John Meyler: “You’re only judged now on winning All-Irelands. Look at Tipperary in 2019, they lost the Munster championship. But it’s forgotten about.” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
After the best part of 30 years’ engagement with county management, former Cork manager John Meyler says that he’s calling it a day. It may not be an earth-shattering revelation but it means that this week’s designation as manager of the 2019 PwC All Stars in Abu Dhabi is the last time he’ll take a dressing-room of elite players.
Even though he intends to keep coaching at club level, he is now in a position to give his retrospective on the game at its highest level.
His last two years with Cork were ultimately damned by faint praise. He is pleased to have won Munster in the first year of the new championship structure in 2018 and still wistful about how close they came to eliminating ultimate champions, Limerick in the All-Ireland semi-final.
But, at the end of it all, he knows that there was only one metric by which his tenure was going to be judged.
“Having finished up this year, a lot of people would have said, ‘you were outstanding in the Munster championship, gave great excitement and enjoyment to Cork supporters. While we didn’t get there at Croke Park it was a huge achievement.’
“But you’re only judged now on winning All-Irelands. Look at Tipperary in 2019, they lost the Munster championship. But it’s forgotten about. Limerick winning it is forgotten about and Limerick were really impressive that time.”
Over the last 15 years, only once have the Munster champions gone on to win the All-Ireland – an unprecedentedly poor return (in the previous 15 years it was six) – and Meyler puts that down to the competitiveness of Munster in the qualifier era, as opposed to Leinster where Kilkenny dominated for well over a decade.
“In the Munster hurling championship your focus has suddenly become the first weekend in May.
“You’re not even thinking about the All-Ireland series. The focus is on being competitive in May and working it back, figuring out when do we need to start ramping up training and when do we speed up our hurling – those sorts of things to get ready for the Munster championship.”
He’s a big supporter of the new championship round-robin format, now heading into the final season of its three-year trial.
“I think the new championship structure has improved the game enormously. Look at the attendances in Munster, which have doubled and it will be ultra-competitive again in 2020. I also think Laois have brought something new to the Leinster championship in terms of their competitiveness. I was really impressed with what Eddie [Brennan] did with them this year.”
As a former manager of Carlow and Kerry – who in 1993, he took to a first championship win since the 1920s – he is familiar with the challenges of emerging hurling counties but believes that to progress they should, like Laois, win their way to the top level.
He disagrees with adding counties to the Munster and Leinster championships to allow those counties a better crack at adjusting to the higher level.
“It’s a matter of small steps. Laois won the McDonagh this year and beat Dublin in the All-Ireland series. It’s that kind of grounding that allows you to prove yourself. You can’t have a situation where you’re putting in a sixth team just to balance up the fixtures.”
He looks forward to seeing Cork under new management next year and is hopeful about the future. One aspect of the new championship format that he particularly likes is the guarantee of two home matches.
“Hurling has improved every year – getting more and more competitive. The new structure is feeding into that. It’s great for the game; big crowds at the Munster championship games; great for local business. Take Cork for example.
“The GAA is bringing in revenue for Cork business and Cork business is supporting Cork GAA. It’s brilliant. In the old days you seemed to be going to Thurles every year. Every county is getting games in summer now. Next year’s Munster championship will be incredibly competitive. You can’t wait for it.”