Analysis: the role and turnover of hurling and football managers has changed enormously over the last few decades

The success or failure of a GAA manager is hinged on a number of factors. These include experience, exposure and personality as well as the availability of talents to be harnessed, support from the county board and, indeed, from fans.

The biggest change in GAA management in recent years has been, well, the change in managers. In the 1980s and 1990s, managers tended to hold their post for longer periods of time. It is difficult to see any inter-county football manager outlasting Seán Boylan's reign as Meath senior football manager, which spanned an astonishing 23 years from 1982 until 2005.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Ray D'Arcy Show, an interview with Sean Boylan about "Sean", a new documentary on his life on and off the pitch

At the start of the 2020 championship season, there were 12 new managers at senior inter-county level. The record for shortest tenure as manager this year surely goes to Paul Galvin who was in charge for a grand total of zero championship games before walking out of the Wexford football job, citing time and travel commitments as the reasons behind his unexpected decision. The Mayo football side seem to substitute their managers as much as their full forward line and in the last six years, have changed management four times, with James Horan returning for a second tenure to sort some unfinished business.

The one exception to the increasingly brief lifecycle of Gaelic football managers? The seemingly immovable Mickey Harte from Tyrone. During his 18-year spell as the county's senior football manager, Harte led a revolution in Tyrone bringing the county six Ulster Senior Championship titles and three All-Irelands.

But having been knocked out of this year’s championship in their opening match, Harte had been cast as yesterday’s man with calls for a new approach to recapture triumph for the red hand county. Harte stood down as Tyrone manager in November 2020 and admitted being 'disappointed' not to be granted the opportunity to lead his county for one more season after the Tyrone management committee turned down his request. It will be interesting to see how his tenure as new Louth manager plays out.  

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From RTÉ 1's Sunday Game, Pat Spillane assesses Mickey Harte's Tyrone legacy and why it was time for the county to move on

With so much at stake in the intensely competitive sphere of GAA, managers are an endangered species and Brian Cody is another whose impressive inter-county career is under threat. Cody has stalked the sidelines and many a linesman with his looming presence since 1998.A stalwart of Kilkenny GAA and the most successful manager in the history of hurling, Cody has led to the Cats to pick up approximately 40,000 medals in total (ballpark figure) in that time.

But with Kilkenny exiting last year's championship at the hands of their neighbours Waterford, questions were asked of Cody’s position. Having enjoyed such a long career which has garnered less success in the last few years, speculation over Cody’s retirement are inevitable, whether that be down to his own resolution or the need for a changing of the guard. Nevertheless, a remarkable era will end when Cody hangs up his iconic baseball cap - though that won't be happening anytime soon

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From RTÉ 2fm's Game On, interview with legendary KIlkenny manager and the most famous baseball cap wearer in the GAA, Brian Cody

And then, there is the excitable Davy Fitzgerald, who since he first walked into inter-county management in 2008, has come to symbolise the passion of hurling more than any other manager. He holds the unique record of leading teams to victory in the Leinster and Munster championships, Fitzgibbon Cup and the pinnacle of senior hurling when his native Clare captured the Liam MacCarthy in 2013.

More than that, Fitzgerald brings hysteria, personality and an appetite for success that means the players aren’t the only stars of the show. While Fitzgerald divides opinion, he is rarely, if ever, dull. His kindness and generosity off the pitch is overshadowed by his highly strung behaviour on the sideline. But the reality is, what manager isn't highly strung and emotional when it comes to their sport? Some are just better at hiding it from the cameras than others.

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From RTÉ 2fm's Game On in 2018, Davy Fitzgerald discuss his new book "At All Costs"

In 2012, Jim McGuinness led Donegal to their first All-Ireland title in 20 years. The Glenties man initiated a style of play that has a smothering effect on the opposition, an operation where all involved know exactly what they are doing as the route to goal is shut off and the counter-attack is characterised by hard running. This defensive system is one that many other sides have since imitated, demonstrating the influence of managers and how their ideas can change the landscape of the GAA. Although the negative style of play has drawn much criticism, McGuinness’ skills in sports psychology have been employed extensively across different sports including rugby, soccer and golf. 

This transfer of his knowledge from GAA to other high profile sports is unique in itself and demonstrates the influence of outside knowledge. Which begs the question: is it time for GAA managers to engage more closely with those with experience in other sports? What a sight it would be to see Mauricio Pochettino bursting up and down the sidelines in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

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From RTÉ Archives, Joe O'Brien reports for RTÉ News on the return home of the 1989 All Ireland winning Kilkenny camogie team led by captain Ann Downey 

Ann Downey is a pioneer in GAA management. As one of Kilkenny’s most successful ever camogie players and after an impressive stint guiding the Cats camogie side to an All-Ireland in 1994, Downey is manager of St Patrick’s Ballyragget intermediate men’s team. She has previously managed Ballyragget male sides at minor and Under-21 level and strongly believes in the importance of women getting involved in coaching and management, which, even in camogie, is often a male-dominated sphere.

There are few industries in which women have made less headway than sports, let alone the GAA. That being said, there are exceptions to every rule and Downey has led the way for other women to break into the male-dominated arena of GAA management.

Managers can change the landscape and outlook of the GAA as much as players

A new trend in GAA management is joint managers. The Clare hurlers, Mayo footballers and Dublin camogie team have appointed duos in recent years but senior success has escaped them all. Can the newly appointed joint management team of Feargal Lohan and Brian Dooher in Tyrone buck that trend?

The growing demands of inter-county Gaelic games has called for greater professional competencies in sport managers. Although often used as scapegoats and an easy target when teams are not performing, managers can change the landscape and outlook of the GAA as much as players.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ