I had decided in my own mind that I would not comment on the resignation of Michael Ryan until after all the interested parties had made the positions known, but the interview with Ryan on Championship Matters last night has moved the goalposts as a) it doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere fast, and b) the silence from the players is deafening. So it’s timely to have a look at where we’re at and where we are going.
The first thing to note is that ‘player power’ is one of those things you either find an acceptable part of the game or hate with a passion, and all the facts of a situation can be manoeuvred to suit those prejudices. I’m in the latter camp. That’s not to say I don’t understand the phenomenon of player power and why people support it. It’s understandable that players on a county panel, who in marked contrast to the past will spend more time together than they would with their club mates, feel a sense of togetherness. I can accept the opinion, honestly expressed, of someone who thinks that their collective viewpoint is valid and should be taken into account when selecting the manager.
I can accept it, but I don’t agree with it. For me, you are a member of the panel because the manager has selected you. If you are dropped, you are no longer a member of the panel. And, most pertinently, the panel ceases to be once the season is over. You often hear (and I’m a great believer in it) that each of the players owe us nothing. When John Mullane retired, he didn’t ‘walk away’ or ‘let anyone down’. He had given over a decade of sterling service and would no longer be available for selection. No problem, so long and thanks for the memories. But this cuts both ways. Please note that I’m not saying he has had any direct influence over what has unfolded in the last week – he has made it quite clear he has not had an influence – and this is the way it should be.
For even if you think that this is a needlessly rigid way of looking at the player-manager relationship which excludes the viewpoint of some very important stakeholders in the fate of the county team, consider this: if the players get their way over who the manager is, yet things don’t improve or even get worse, who carries the can? If the officers of the County Board get it wrong, they are subject to the will of the clubs. We practically had civil war in the late 80’s when Eamonn Murphy was determined to act in a certain manner over the appointment of Joe McGrath. Yet who is to intervene if the players make the wrong choice? As Spider-man said, with great power comes great responsibility, and he never had as onerous a responsibility as taking on Brian Cody.
That’s my manifesto, and I can accept that someone can think I’m being hopelessly naive and still honourably want what is best for the county. People closer to the players will have heard expressions that Michael Ryan doesn’t know his arse from his elbow. Indeed, at the risk of playing the game of dúirt bean liom go ndúirt bean léi, I was reliably informed before the League of a certain player’s dissatisfaction with the management team. If someone chooses to put greater weight on that than my airy-fairy principles, fine. We can agree to differ.
What I can’t accept, especially from proponents of the Realpolitik of player democracy, is the idea that this was in reality an expression of player democracy. The bare facts of the heave seem to be that eleven of the players met in the Ramada at 11am last Sunday. After a ringaround of the other players, it was agreed that the vote was 18-12 in favour of a motion of no confidence in Michael Ryan. Maybe those facts will change, but if not then it’s nothing short of disgraceful. Having a meeting consisting of barely a third of the electorate smacks of Scargill-esque democracy of the committed. I would go so far as to suggest that those eleven had already made up their minds to depose Ryan. They set the agenda, and a series of phone calls followed where they could tell the other players, half of whom were on their way to Dublin or already in Croke Park, that yeah we’ve agreed Scully isn’t up to the job what do you think remember that time he couldn’t pronounce that word he’s only ever won medals with women you want to get rid of him too good thanks see ya enjoy the match. Perhaps this is harsh and it was a much fairer debate, but the optics of the bare facts are absolutely terrible for the players. As things stand, to stand with them is to stand for a coup.
What now? I’m still hopeful we can step back from the abyss. Everyone wants what is best for Waterford hurling. Someone in the County Board should organise a meeting between all the players, a group that can include anyone who has had a sniff of inter-county hurling in recent years, and Michael Ryan. I’m convinced that Michael Ryan is not going to be stubborn in the face of a player revolt in the manner that Justin McCarthy was in Limerick. The speed with which he handed in his cards showed he won’t stick around if he is not wanted. However, subsequent revelations have suggested that the support for his ousting is built on sand. In the manner of the Dayton accords, let’s stick them all in a room and not let them out until they’ve all agreed on a way forward. Just remember not to schedule this meeting for the second Sunday in September.