Having completed his three-year term, Peter Ford’s decision not to seek an extension as Galway manager was not unexpected. He leaves with his ambition to emulate John O’Mahony unfulfilled, and with the inescapable rumble of disquiet in the background over Galway’s dismissal from the championship.
Managers live in the shadow of followers’ discontent. Kudos is bestowed only when there is nothing further to be achieved, and exists only for as long as their team remains undefeated. Otherwise, team bosses are constantly walking a tightrope . . . each as good only as his next All-Ireland success.
There were high hopes for Peter Ford when he was appointed team boss in Galway three years ago. But the bar was high, much higher that when John O’Mahony arrived in 1998. There was no template for O’Mahony so he set about shaping his own course to success.
The profiles of the men who guided Galway to their previous title thirty-two years earlier – John Dunne and Frank Stockwell – were much less prominent. They were trainers then, amateurs in every sense of the word. Their retinue consisted of a few helpers who carried the bags, and the magic water bottle that was the panacea for every injury. There was no psychologist to interview, no physiotherapist on the bench. It was a time not very far removed from the days of the half-time distribution of oranges to team members in the middle of the field.
Although he had worked wonders with Leitrim many in Galway greeted the appointment of John O’Mahony with misgivings. It was a choice made hastily, it was claimed, in the wake of John Maughan’s near- miracle in Mayo in the two preceding years. He confounded the cynics in his first year, however, his success beyond the wildest dreams of every Galway fan. Seven years later they clamoured for more, but O’Mahony knew the team he had built had little more to give.
His was a hard act to follow. Peter Ford would have known that nothing less than All-Ireland success would crown his appointment. Yet, if anyone came close to John O’Mahony’s credentials for the job, it was Ford. He had been a member of John Maughan’s selection team in 1996 and 1997, and he is fondly remembered in Sligo as the man who taught their players to compete with the best.
His reign in Galway began on a blistering note with the success of the county’s under-21s, followed by a win over his native county. . . and a row early in 1996 with Mickey Moran whom he chided after the newly appointed Mayo manager accused Ford’s team of engaging in physical tactics foreign to Galway football.
To be sure there was a more gristly quality to Galway’s tackling in that league semi-final, but nothing less than is required in the modern game and nothing different to what Ford himself had brought to his own game in Mayo. As a fullback he was as tough as they come. Nothing daunted him, and he expected nothing less from his charges.
But somehow he could not carve out in Galway a reproduction of John O’Mahony’s original model. He relied on the experience of O’Mahony’s stars, but the likes of Padraic Joyce and Derek Savage and the Meehans had begun to lose their brilliance, and the imbalance between the old stars and new raw youth for immediate success was too great. He needed to build anew, but time and the impatience of supporters precluded any such development.
Galway’s performance last May seemed to herald a new prosperous era for the Tribesmen when they trounced Mayo by seven points, a margin not attained over their old rivals for twelve years. They never recaptured that form subsequently, and embarrassing losses to Sligo and Meath signalled the departure of the manager.
John Maughan also sits uneasily on his throne in Roscommon. The news that the County Board had left it to Maughan himself to decide whether to remain on as manager for a further term or retire is not a display of confidence in the man to whom the Rossies looked to lift their county from the pits of despair. But, here too, supporters expected too much too soon
Weeding out players who are felt to be impeding progress, and beginning the process of building a confident and cohesive structure cannot be completed in a few seasons. John Maughan has set the foundations, but he may not be the one to build a winning team.
The draw this season was in Maughan’s favour and for once luck appeared to be on his side, a Connacht final within easy reach, we thought. But Sligo upset the dream and the wrath of supporters has since rained down on their manager.
Maybe he will give it one more try, but already there is a growing view that the reins should be handed to Fergal O’Donnell who coached the county’s minors to unexpected All-Ireland success last season.