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More questions than answers

Sport

FLASHBACK  Mayo manager James Horan is congratulated by a supporter and Mayo GAA Board Secretary Dermot Butler (right) after the All-Ireland SFC Qualifier win over Donegal in 2019. Pic: Sportsfile

Comment
Edwin McGreal

WE can recall no fall-out from an All-Ireland Final defeat as acrimonious as this one.
And, therefore, it stands to reason we recall no end-of-season review as well-publicised as this one either.
The end-of-year review meeting between James Horan and his management team on one side of the table, and Mayo County Board chiefs on the other, elicited considerable discussion at the most recent County Board meeting.
It was clear from the contribution of the delegates who spoke that they feel there are some questions that need to be answered by the Mayo manager.
It mirrors the mood among many people in the county since the defeat to Tyrone on September 11.
That being said, we find it surprising that Mayo GAA Secretary Dermot Butler invited all clubs to submit questions ahead of the review meeting with Horan and company.
If you’ll pardon the pun, we feel it’s a decision that begs several questions.
Will all the questions submitted be directed to James Horan and his management team? Doubtlessly no, as there could be hundreds of them.
What questions will be directed?
It’s hard to know.
What answers will be given? Even harder to know if we don’t know the questions.
What will be reported back to the clubs at the next County Board meeting? Again, without a crystal ball, we’re guessing. But we think it’s not a huge leap of faith to suggest there’s likely to be little enough in the way of detail and plenty in the way of generalisations.
Expect lines like ‘robust discussion’, ‘appreciated the feedback of the clubs’, ‘lots to learn and work on’, ‘very close’ etc.
We cannot imagine how it would be helpful for the full content of that meeting to be publicly aired. We can’t imagine any county which would do this.
Because, fundamentally, these meetings are private ones and, as much as people might shout about ‘accountability’, there’s a time for being up front with the wider world and a time for discretion.
We might get a sense of how the review meeting went down without finding out much detail about direct questions and answers. This might be about as much as we can hope for.
But, by the sound of things, some clubs/delegates will be looking for chapter and verse.
They won’t be happy if that does not arrive, which is our suspicion as to how it will play out.
Which begs the question being repeated – why was the decision taken to ‘open the floor’ (in a manner of speaking) to the clubs in the first place?

FINDING THEIR VOICE
IT’S good to see that Mayo club delegates are finding their voice.
With a few honourable exceptions, the role of the club delegate is part of a broken structure in the GAA’s apparent veneer of democracy.
Clubs are often too busy minding their own affairs to discuss County Board matters and therefore direct their delegate to ask certain questions or take a certain stance.
Often it is left to the discretion of the delegate themselves. Some use their insight to probe and question, but far too many are quiet unless matters directly affecting their club come up.
I only hope the delegates are as vocal now for the rest of the year on all issues.   
But back to the big question – why go down this road?
Even opening the door to any sort of situation where clubs can essentially ‘grill’ the manager of the flagship team of Mayo GAA is a dangerous road, in this writer’s view.
The reality is that a county board executive is elected every year at convention and given the responsibility to deal with many matters on behalf of the clubs. They can take direction from the clubs, if it comes, but that’s the height of it. This is a good step beyond that.
Justified frustration with the Mayo County Board across recent decades does not mean you just open the floodgates on a whim.
We tend to agree with comments made by Daithí Gallagher, the Mayo GAA Bord na nÓg Chairman, at the aforementioned county board meeting when he expressed reservations about going down this road.
“Absolutely we have to ask questions, but we have to put a little bit of trust in the structure we’ve set up here. I think we have to be very very careful when it comes to a scenario where 48 different clubs across our county can submit a specific question,” he said.
“I think it’s dangerous territory, is my point.”

EXPERTISE
ANOTHER media colleague, Anthony Hennigan, has argued that the fact that Liam Moffatt served as a physio under James Horan (in Horan’s first term in charge of Mayo), and played with Ciarán McDonald, may hinder Moffatt’s ability to ask the required questions in the review.
These relationships are a reality and we take the point, but beg to differ.
As someone who has played for Mayo at all levels and won an All-Ireland senior club medal, Moffatt is better qualified than any County Board chairman we remember to quiz a Mayo manager. He is familiar with high performance set-ups through his football career in Mayo and at Dublin City University.
Mayo is not a big county. No person who is chair of the county board is capable of getting there without having formed many relationships along the way.
But Anthony’s point does raise, indirectly, an interesting point.
What should we expect of these end of season reviews?
They happen every year (or at least they should) and some times are often undoubtedly formulaic and a matter of form, particularly when the ‘term’ of a manager is not up.  
Other years they are not.
It looks like this year will be the latter, even if James Horan has a year left on his ‘term’.
Sometimes the review can be very informal. It is a chance to discuss where there were issues, tensions and conflicts during the year and set in train methods to prevent a repeat.
It is a chance for both sides to say where they felt the other did well and where they felt there’s room for improvement.
It shouldn’t really stray into areas like team selection or tactics, that’s another dangerous road to go down.
The personalities involved will often dictate the nature of how these meetings go.
But perhaps the county board side of the table should be, as a rule, stronger in its formulation than it has been for too many years.
Many county board administrators are very good at what they do, but senior inter-county football is different gravy.
The inter-county game has changed beyond all recognition in the past decade.
Instead of throwing out an open invitation to the clubs, perhaps it should be a criteria that a county board delegation for the review include someone with top-level football experience, from either inside or outside the county.
But we are where we are and James Horan has questions to answer, in more ways than one.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: an interview by the Mayo manager with a media outlet (any outlet, we’re not canvassing) would help matters considerably.
Instead, as Michael Foley of The Sunday Times said on our podcast recently, there is a huge void and into the void goes speculation, daft rumours, and very fair questions that just hang in the ether without an answer.
Time is not healing this one.
Maybe that’s one of the reasons why outgoing county board chairman, Liam Moffatt, and Dermot Butler have thrown this open to the clubs – to help move things along.
We will know more at the next county board meeting. But maybe not a lot more.

 

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