Why oh why do supporters of Waterford feel the need to look for a crisis where there are none? Michael Ryan’s first big decision as manager, leaving Eoin Kelly off the panel, has produced a predictable bout of angst. Ryan is flexing his muscles, it’s a publicity stunt, there has to be something more to it etc. We even had the bizarre sight of Damien Tiernan darkly suggesting that “there is more to the Eoin Kelly/ Waterford hurling management dispute than has been said”. Um, isn’t it your job to find out for us? A case for Prime Time Investigates, perhaps. Then again, given their record, we never know what might come out of that.
The truth seems straightforward, or at least people would want to have stronger evidence than a-feeling-in-me-waters to dispute Michael Ryan’s account, one that doesn’t seem to have been contradicted by Eoin Kelly. He was asked to discuss his lack of fitness and refused to do so, fully cogniscant of what that refusal meant. Please don’t take as a cut at Eoin Kelly, a suggestion that’s he’s lazy or feckless. God knows how much effort he put into turning himself into an inter-county quality free-taker, effort that no other player would have had to put in. This is clear evidence of his commitment to the Waterford cause throughout the years and his willingness to put in the hard yards. And there’s no obligation on him to put in any effort if he doesn’t want to. But there are consequences to rebuffing the manager. There have to be, and he knows it. Yet that still won’t stop people speaking on his behalf, because [sarcasm] he’s always been such a demur character up until now [/sarcasm]. Thank goodness we have the unsilent majority to speak up for him.
It’s almost as if we want to justify our failure to land the McCarthy Cup on the basis that there is too much feuding in the county rather than much more obvious sources such as bad luck (yeah, I’ve said it) or not being good enough. And the killing part is that these things become self-fulfilling prophecies. People post on the internet about the infighting in Waterford GAA that they’ve read about on the internet. We really need to give Michael Ryan some space. At least give him the chance to screw up before we start calling him a screw-up.
In the end, it was straightforward. Take submissions from interested parties and put out feelers to parties of interest. Assemble the interview panel. Conduct interviews. Recommend best candidate. Appoint candidate. It would have been nice if the plain people of Waterford had been kept posted as to progress through each stage of the process, but you can’t accuse the selection committee of leaving any stones unturned or not giving everyone a fair chance. You might argue that if it had acted more promptly that we could have gotten the ideal candidate quicker, but that assumes there was a universally popular JBM-style candidate out there. So kudos to the selection committee for giving Michael Ryan a clear mandate as the new Waterford senior hurling manager.
When Waterford won the Munster title in 2002, the still sadly-missed Breaking Ball had an interview with Paddy Joe Ryan were he said that upon becoming the chairman of the County Board he had identified the need to bring in an outside manager as his top priority. It wasn’t a case that it would be preferable, it was essential that any manager came from outside to avoid what Ryan presumably thought was the insoluble faction-fighting that plagues Waterford hurling. Whether you think this was reasonable or not, the perception was there and few would have quibbled with his assessment – or, as he sat there clutching the Munster Cup, the results
You would have hoped though after fourteen years of outsiders that such nonsense would have gone the way of Division 3 hurling for the county. Alas, the perception is still there as Michael Ryan finds himself having to scotch suggestions of a rift with De La Salle. There doesn’t seem to be anything sinister to it but if you want to start as you mean to go on then it’s not the most auspicious of beginnings. Time for us all to take a leaf out of Peter Queally’s book and stop playing silly buggers.
One final thought on the whole management selection process. We’ve had the names of Jason Ryan, Kevin Ryan and Michael Ryan bandied about. Where are all the Powers? It’s bad enough that we’ve had an outsider all these years, but even when we pick one of our own they have a Tipperary name. Whether it be quotas, name changes or forced marriages, something must be done to bring the name of De Paor back to the forefront of Waterford hurling. Put in a plan now and we might have one within fourteen years.
One of the reasons the GAA will never be able to compete with cross-channel soccer in hogging newspaper column inches is the lack of churn. All those lovely transfers on which to endlessly speculate and pontificate upon. And if there aren’t any transfers, you just make them up. It’s not as if anyone will check today’s fish & chip wrapping to find out what you said yesterday.
With that in mind, pronouncements on the certainty of Michael Ryan being appointed as the next Waterford manager should be treated with caution. If nothing else, the article in the link mentions that he will the first Waterford-born manager of the county since ‘Jim Mansfield’. Good to see NAMA bailing out one of our own. The story is speculative by nature, but there is some thought behind it, i.e he’s the last man standing. To avoid a long paragraph filled with commas, let’s look at the alleged candidates in list form:
- Jason Ryan: the man to whose mast I had so brazenly nailed my colours is staying with the Yellabellies.
- John Allen: Limerick-bound. I can’t say I’ll be lamenting missing out on him. His articles in the Irish Times over the years showed a man who fancied himself as a latter-day Myles na Gopaleen – NB this is not a compliment, Myles was meant to be a clown – and his All-Ireland success was a legacy from Donal O’Grady. Speaking of whom . . .
- Donal O’Grady: not interested in anything by the looks of it. A pity. Not only did he turn Limerick around, people forget the mess Cork were in when he took over – crushed by Galway in 2002, under O’Grady they’d be Munster champions in 2003 and All-Ireland champions in 2004. He’s clearly not a man given to Brian Cody-style empire building, so he might be available again in another five years.
- Kevin Ryan: not interesting the selection committee. This is a weird one. Why should Kevin Ryan not applying for the job or being nominated rule him out, while Jason Ryan neither applying or being nominated leads to him being so surreptitiously courted?
So unless a left-field candidate like James O’Connor emerges, that leaves Michael Ryan. What to make of him? He has experience of winning All-Irelands with the Waterford ladies footballers, and his hurling credentials are formidable with De La Salle (an obvious weakness for Jason Ryan). And yes, being from Waterford is a positive thing. It’s not that external candidates offend against our sense of Waterfordness or that I think a local will be able to tap into some hitherto undiscovered pool of passion. But it’ll be good that we feel confident enough in our own structures that we don’t need to look outside for someone who can look past our parish pump politics in putting together the county panel (see: Boggus Gaagaa).
Still, there’s going to be a last-chicken-in-the-shop feel to the appointment of Michael Ryan. Steve McClaren never recovered from the ridicule heaped upon his head as being ‘Second Choice-Steve’ after the English FA finally accepted that Brian Clough was in no position to take the job. It shouldn’t be so blatant with Ryan, but the contrast with how unexciting an appointment it will be in comparison to Jason Ryan (just saying) will be obvious. With the best will in the world, it’s not a dynamic appointment. And surely more-of-the-same isn’t going to cut it.