COMMUNICATION IS KEY Former Mayo manager James Horan talks to Enda Hession during the 2019 National League match against Down in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
THE only topic of conversation these days among Mayo supporters concerns the appointment of the new senior manager. All we know for sure at the moment is that whoever gets the job is going to have to impress the interview committee, first, and then the players he will be managing.
So what does a typical player look for in a manager?
In my experience, the first thing is that they will need to believe in that person.
They need to believe that he gives them the best chance of winning, and that he knows how to get the best out of them, in terms of asking them to play a role for the team and facilitating their improvement. That’s the absolute key to the manager-player dynamic.
You hear so often that players ‘knew from the first week of training whether this manager or that coach was a bluffer or not’. That’s why I think that first impressions matter.
At this level all these Mayo players will already have first impressions of all these candidates. In some respects there will be pre-conceptions about whoever is going to be the manager.
So the first few training sessions under whoever it is are going to be absolutely critical, in terms of approaching it with confidence, professionalism, absolute authority and with a vision of how this team is going to get better.
And that’s going to have to be spelled out at the very outset, to get buy-in from players.
The best managers are good planners; they can plan ahead and have a vision. They have a keen understanding of their players and how they want them to play.
They have absolute confidence in their methods, because there can be no doubt, and that vision has to be communicated effectively to the group early.
That has to come from the manager himself.
There is no much said and written nowadays about backroom teams and, of course they are important, but sometimes when managers are being appointed, people can get seduced by the make-up of the different backroom teams.
But when the manager meets the players, and I’m sure it’s the same when the candidates sit down with the interview committee, it’s about communicating his vision to them with surety.
In the early stages, the backroom team can be over-egged, in my opinion.
But once things are up and running, then having that willingness and ability to collaborate with different people with different skill-sets than the manager has, and willing to bring people on board who will challenge him and question him, then more stones are turned over to find solutions to different problems.
The vast majority of work done by inter-county players is done in collective training sessions, with the rest of the group, whether it’s in Castlebar or Bekan or wherever.
As a manager, that’s your bread and butter — putting together a session that brings players that bit closer to improved team performance and achieving your goals.
The quality of those sessions are really important; so if you’re a manager who isn’t that comfortable going out and taking a training session, you have to have a coach who is really good at communicating all those things you plan to work on, who has planned the session to perfection and that players feel moves efficiently from drill to drill.
Your job as manager is to ensure that you have the person or people to do that, if you don’t do it yourself. But they have to be working towards a game-plan and a brand of football that the manager believes in. The manager has to have absolute control over every training session, with the target outcome of getting better and better.
His job is to ‘co-ordinate the co-ordinators’ as they say in American football.
That is the job of the modern day manager at inter-county level.
Game-management remains a big issue
TO James Horan’s credit, he was very good at setting out a way of playing, you saw vast improvement in some individual players, he was obviously good at that, and that’s something the new Mayo manager will have to show they can do.
I think what somebody does on the sideline during a game might be over-emphasised by supporters sometimes; that substitution that was made or not made — and of course it matters when it comes down to fine margins in the last 20 minutes of big games.
A mistake at that stage can cost a team the game.
But if you’re not doing all the other stuff right; all the training sessions, the organisation, the planning, the specific coaching in different areas of the game, then you won’t find yourself in a position to win big games that comes down to a decision on substitutions.
Still, the interview committee will have to get a sense of how each of these candidates would treat game-management. That’s crucial; what is their philosophy considering the speed of the game now? Look at Jack O’Connor in the All-Ireland Final, who made two changes at half-time. That doesn’t happen very often, but it worked out.
Do you believe in using your full complement of subs? And getting energy out on the field?
They have to get an idea of what the candidates’ thoughts are on those sort of issues, because it may not be as important as what they do for nine months of the year in terms of preparation, but it is important and it will cost the team games down the line if it’s not done right.
In terms of the new manager, you have to have somebody who can inspire people, that people can believe in.
But that’s not enough on its own.
They also have to have the professionalism and the vision, the CEO-type skills to pick people to do certain tasks and empower them to do them.
With everyone working towards getting the team to play the way the manager wants them to; the brand of football that gets the best and most out of these current Mayo players.