Situations Vacant

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Position:Manager of the Republic of Ireland senior football team and guardian of a nation’s hopes and dreams.

Employer: Football Association of Ireland. Based in Dublin, this is a world-famous sports organisation that demands the best of its employees and its fans, renowned for its ability to produce labyrinthine financial accounts, to promote sell-out friendlies involving foreign clubs, and to stick its head in the sand regarding the lack of quality youngsters being developed in Ireland.

Salary:Negotiable – depending on whether our Sugar Daddy who helps us out with running the show thinks you are worth six or seven figures. Put it this way: if you have a foreign accent and a bit of a reputation, we can probably guarantee you more than if you are a native. Wages can also be supplemented by a handy few bob in endorsements if the national economy picks up and the team starts winning. Eh, perhaps best not to factor either of those into your earnings just yet.

Qualifications:It would help if you can speak English but it’s not essential because some of our players aren’t that fluent in it anyway. We aren’t the kind of high-maintenance association that will make you learn the language just because you are drawing down over a million euros per year. We also find that the inability to speak the language helps avoid awkward questions from reporters. Not to mention that when in trouble in press conferences resorting to some sort of impersonation of Manuel from Fawlty Towers can be a charming way out of trouble. Also, having an attractive female interpreter has been known to serve as a cute distraction in times of crisis. Something to bear in mind.

Experience.The last guy we had was one of the most experienced managers still working in the game. He’d seen and done it all. However, before that we opted for a poor chap who was an assistant at Walsall where his main job was coaching the defenders. So, as you can see, we are open to just about anybody who has ever kicked a ball or managed a team as long as he’s not from Cork and is not obsessed with excellence and overachieving and all that uppity nonsense. Anybody who has ever pointed out the deficiencies in the FAI and muttered any blasphemy about the blazers being treated better than those who wore the jersey need not apply either.

Location: Well, now that you mention it, this one is a bit tricky. You can live in any country you want but we’d like you to travel to Britain at the weekends to watch our best players playing and to try to ascertain the usual boring stuff involving what kind of form they are in, what sort of positions they are being played in etc…Now, if you have an impressive enough CV, we might look the other way on this score and just bang you over a few DVDS every Sunday night. We had that arrangement with the last fella and it worked out fine until the results started going bad. Then we made him get on a plane every so often just to give the supporters one less thing to moan about. Again, this one is negotiable. From time to time you will have to show your face around Ireland though. Our incredibly hard-working chief executive has visited 5 million clubs over the past two years and he’d like you to pop along with him the odd time especially if there’s a pitch or a trophy being named after him (this happens a lot). Maybe if you are good enough at your job, they might name something after you too. In fact, let’s put that in as a bonus perk of the position.

Additional requirements: You must not be a fan of the Champions’ League. None of our players really play there anymore and the way things are going that situation is unlikely to change during your tenure. We do have one guy with Celtic who might be mixing it with the best players in the world this season but he hasn’t been in the international squad for a while, not since his life began to read like a sample script from an especially bizarre episode of Love/Hate. Anyway, what we’re trying to say is you better tape the Barcelona and Bayern matches because you’ll be spending your Tuesday nights knocking around the Championship and League One (Wolverhampton is lovely in November). The grounds are much smaller but the atmosphere can be just as good.

The successful candidate must also be willing to accept unusual practices. International caps are often given out to players in airport bars. The chief executive is a YouTube sensation who likes to go onto the pitch after winning important games to sing with the fans and to offer them his green tie. No matter how bad things are, manager must be able to put on a brave face and pretend things are looking up and the future is bright. Again, lack of basic English may be a boon in this regard.

How to apply: Send a CV to Stephen Driver at FAI Human Resources. It might also not hinder your candidacy if you run a parallel campaign in the media. Get people who are still “in” with the leaders of the game in Ireland to talk up your credentials on television and radio and in print. Start with a well-placed leak to a newspaper or with a hefty wager on yourself up to push you up near the top of the board in the betting shops. Then get somebody to talk about how you are a great man-manager, the kind players love to play for. Whatever you do, don’t let anybody mention how your teams were usually dour and unattractive but capable of eking out results. We have to convince our fans the new guy will make the team more entertaining.

Closing date for applications: We aren’t sure yet. That’s the way we operate.

 

FAI: Smart people not necessarily wanted

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Roy Keane played more than 300 times for Manchester United. For about eight seasons, he was the most important player on a team that dominated England and won a Champions’ League. He played under Brian Clough and Alex Ferguson (the two most influential managers in the British game), had some managerial success at Sunderland and a lot less at Ipswich Town. He is 42 years old and his main job is as a television pundit. In any other country in the world, those in charge of the sport would be begging him to be involved in any role he choose to try to help improve the game at all levels. Any other country except Ireland.

Brian Kerr managed the Irish youth teams for close to a decade. He brought an under-20 team that had one genuine talent, Damien Duff, to third place at the World Cup, a feat that will never be matched again. He led Under-16 and Under-18 teams to European titles in one magical summer. He didn’t do a great job managing the Irish senior team but his achievements with the Faroe Islands demonstrated the guy had learned a lot from that chastening experience. Kerr turned 60 earlier this year. In any other country in the world, those in charge of the sport would be begging him to be involved in any role he choose to try to help improve the game at all levels. Any other country except Ireland.

Niall Quinn’s playing career was distinguished by one impressive feature. He made the very most out of every opportunity he was ever given. Players with so much more talent never made it beyond youth teams yet Quinn played in World Cups. When Sunderland, a club he loved was in trouble, he brokered a deal to save it and served as chairman for more than four years, the type of job that gave him priceless insight into and invaluable experience of the administration of the game. In any other country in the world, those in charge of the sport would be begging him to be involved in any role he choose to try to help improve the game at all levels. Any other country except Ireland.

As the clock ticked down on Giovanni Trapattoni this past week, Keane, Quinn and Kerr came to mind. There are aspects of all three men that don’t appeal to some people but what does it say about the soccer authorities that this trio are on the outside looking in? Have they nothing to contribute to the direction of the sport in Ireland? Does Keane know anything about the standards required at international level where he was a colossus? What can Kerr tell us about grooming youngsters to compete with their peers in other nations? As the only Irishman with significant experience running a Premier League club, surely Quinn knows useful stuff about the business of modern sport?

Why are they not involved? In any other sport, you get the best people in to help you when are you down on your luck. Not the ones you like most. Not the easiest to get along with. You get in the best because they can lift everybody else around them.

Last week it was refreshing to see Greg Dyke, the chairman of the English FA, come out with a state of the nation speech about the crisis in the game in that country. Now, you didn’t have to agree with everything he had to say in order to applaud the very fact he was saying something at all. The English have often been rightly accused of ignoring the issues and exaggerating the quality of their players. Like so much else in soccer, we ape them in this regard. We also overhype the few talented kids we produce and we fail to take drastic action to improve standards when required.

Reading Dyke’s speech, I just kept wondering why John Delaney hasn’t made remarks like these. Everybody involved in soccer in Ireland at all levels will tell you that the game is in trouble. Not in terms of the numbers playing but in terms of the calibre of players coming through. Ireland was once regarded as a hotbed of talent by English clubs. After the breakthroughs of the Keanes in 1990 and 1997, the country was over-run by scouts searching for the next big thing. Lately, we hear more and more of bosses in England scrapping their Irish scouting networks. No point keeping an eye on the scene there when it’s not up to standard.

This weekend, we will all return to watching the Premier League and we will forget at least for a couple of hours about the woes of the Irish international team. But, if you care about the sport, you’ll wince when you see Irish players onscreen. Like their British counterparts, they are almost always the ones with the unreliable first touch, the love of humping the ball forward blindly (John O’Shea is the master of this one), and the fear of possession. I don’t meant to knock O’Shea. Right now, he may go down in history as the last Irish kid to make it from the youth set-up to being a regular first team starter at a major English club.

On July 20 this year, John Delaney delivered his annual speech to the FAI AGM in Wicklow, an event where delegates were also treated to him appearing no less than 58 times in one promotional video. Anyway, this seemed like the perfect occasion for the man in charge to voice concerns about Ireland no longer producing players good enough to compete at the highest level for club and country. In the course of a document that runs to almost seven pages, however, Delaney barely touched on the issue of player development. He had more important fish to fry. He devoted much more time and space to slamming the media for criticizing the FAI’s rather puzzling and labyrinthine finances. One more troubling indication of where his and the FAI’s priorities lie.

 

 

 

Scenes from a sporting life

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THE MAN-CHILD

Pivoting out of an attempted tackle, Jimmy Barry-Murphy started swaggering towards goal. As is always the case with the very best players, those around him seemed frozen as he soloed on the spot before nonchalantly firing home his second goal of the 1973 All-Ireland final and finishing off Galway. The audacious shot was a tribute to manager Diarmuid O’Donovan’s bold decision to blood a teenager that summer. The tall, thin youth with the crew-cut raised his arms in triumph, once after the ball hit the net and again as he trotted back to his position. Each time, the crowd noise in Croke Park grew progressively louder and louder and somewhere in the cacophony of a September afternoon, a star was born.

“He used to arrive into the dressing-room with a skinhead haircut and wore all the gear – the short denims above the ankles, the denim jacket and wide braces, the Doc Martens, the lot,” wrote Billy Morgan. “Some of the older county board men couldn’t make head nor tail out of it all and that gave the players no end of pleasure.”

THE MAN

There is a popular, old photograph of JBM and Christy Ring deep in conversation at a training session in Pairc Ui Chaoimh. It isn’t quite the Ring-Mackey shot, yet for a generation, it is a picture that draws a line between the different eras, one sepia, one technicolour.  Nine minutes before half-time in the 1976 Munster hurling semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds, Barry-Murphy was sprung from the bench. It’s difficult to imagine now but that’s where he was. With their defence dominating, Tipperary had controlled proceedings to that point and the Cork selectors, among them Ring, felt his introduction might liven up the forwards.  Which it did.

A couple of months later, now a starter, Barry-Murphy was struggling in the All-Ireland final against Wexford. It was decided to move him from wing-forward to centre-forward where Mick Jacob had been imperious to that point. Barry-Murphy rattled over three points in 15 minutes to put Cork clear, Pat Moylan added another and the first step had been taken towards three in a row. At the final whistle, Ring ran onto the field, sought out Barry-Murphy and embraced him. A Glenman hugging a Barrsman in the middle of Croke Park, the icon of all icons giving his stamp of approval to the newcomer.

THE GOAL

When John Fenton gathered a handpass from Dermot McCurtain in the second half of the 1983 All-Ireland hurling semi-final against Galway, there didn’t seem a whole lot on. Looking up, he drove the ball towards the 14 yard line where Conor Hayes was marking Barry-Murphy. The forward always thrived on the low, intelligent ball usually delivered by the centre-fielder but this time Fenton sent the ball in head high. Already a couple of steps behind the full-back, Barry-Murphy muttered, “Feck yeah, Fenton” as he noted the trajectory. Better-placed than his man, Hayes went up to block, at which point his opponent’s stick came across him in a flash and somehow directed the ball to the back of the net. It moved too fast for any television camera of that time to pick it up properly but RTE’s viewers voted it goal of the year anyway. A cameo of brilliance for the ages.

“In the following weeks – and years – there was no scarcity of sciolists to maintain that it was all ‘luck’ or ‘chance’,” wrote Kevin Cashman. “It is pointless to explain to such people about the patience and practice and concentration and the unique natural gift of co-ordination of limb and eye which went to make that stroke.”

THE MANAGER

After the final whistle of the 1999 All-Ireland hurling final, after Mark Landers had welcomed back Liam McCarthy, Barry-Murphy walked over to Hill 16 with his players. He clambered up the railings and, with one hand clinging to the fence, the other was raising the trophy in front of a sea of red and white that ebbed and flowed up and down the terrace. Minutes earlier, in the culmination of four difficult  years, he’d managed the youngest Cork team ever to win an All-Ireland, something that had seemed such a distant prospect just months earlier. The identity of the architect of the triumph, of course, just served to burnish the legend.

“If Landers made it clear just how much Jimmy meant to us, Jimmy then made it clear to us just how much we meant to him,” wrote Brian Corcoran of the pre-match ritual before that final. “He came over to us one by one and presented us with our jersey with a shake of the hand first then a hug. It was simple, spontaneous, special.”

 

THE SECOND COMING

Never go back. One of the old truisms of management appeared to be borne out by much of what has happened during Barry-Murphy’s second stint in charge of Cork. Controversy, something he studiously avoided throughout his playing and managerial career, has been a regular visitor. The county has hummed with rumours and whispers. There has been too much talk of falling-outs and acrimony. Forty summers ago, there was no Twitter to fuel intrigue and spread rancour.  Forty summers ago, there was a lot less hype. It’s a long way from impromptu choruses of “Six foot two, eyes of  blue…” washing across the field to radio stations blaring a song called “Do the Jimmy Barry-Murphy.”

Yet, as he takes charge against Clare this Sunday, not everything has changed. In the style of hurling played, in the way that new stars have come in, announced themselves and taken ownership of the jersey, we can see the handiwork of JBM and the imprints of those he worked with in times past. This is obvious too in the way he has conducted himself. Never reacting to the criticisms made in the media, his conduct after every game (win or lose) has been exemplary. No excuses. No buck-passing. And, on the good days, no desire to gloat at the critics. Some call that classy. Others might describe it as doing the Jimmy Barry-Murphy.