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Gaelic Football

New manager must beware of the poisoned chalice

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WHEN Kevin Heffernan resigned as Dublin football manager in January 1986, Sean Boylan was facing into a defining season with Meath.

Without a Leinster title since 1970, Meath were wading in frustration, having suffered very publicly as Dublin won four All-Ireland and nine Leinster titles in the 1974-85 period.

Boylan was in his fourth season and, while the knives may not been have on show, they were being sharpened quietly. Another championship disappointment would probably have ended Boylan's reign. Almost 16 years on, Boylan is still presiding over Meath, having led them to four All-Ireland and eight Leinster titles, while Dublin are changing Government for the seventh time.

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The Dubs have won the All-Ireland once and the Leinster championship five times since 1989 but, significantly, show a zero title return since 1995. It is their longest spell without winning a Leinster title final since the re-emergence under Heffernan in 1974.

Meanwhile, they have watched Meath prosper while Kerry and Galway, their greatest rivals outside Leinster, continue to feed contentedly from the title trough, leading to a near-manic pursuit of scapegoats in Dublin.

In the modern sporting culture, blame is distributed most unevenly, with the manager absorbing a totally dis-proportionate amount.

That is at its most apparent in Dublin, where there has been a growing tendency to force managers out in one way or another.

The process has been become increasingly ruthless with Mickey Whelan announcing his departure in the Parnell Park dressing rooms on a gloomy November evening in 1997 shortly after a howling mob had called for his resignation following a National League defeat. His successor, Tommy Carr, also got the Parnell Park treatment, albeit in a more brutal manner.

Whereas Whelan's critics were outside the wire, Carr was the victim of a callous heave which ended with his removal as manager by County Board decree.

Whelan's predecessor, Dr Pat O'Neill, who is Dublin's most successful post-Heffernan manager, took the unusual step of resigning just a month after winning the 1995 All-Ireland final.

Perhaps he felt that he had taken that particular team as far and as high as it could reach and that to continue would leave himself exposed to the critics over the coming seasons.

O'Neill had taken over in slightly controversial circumstances, having been elevated from selector to manager after the 1992 All-Ireland final, with Paddy Cullen stepping down.

Prior to that, Gerry McCaul, probably the most unlucky Dublin manager of all, was given four years but just couldn't land the All-Ireland title.

McCaul had replaced the triumvirate of Brian Mullins, Sean Doherty and Robbie Kelleher, who hold the record for one of the shortest reigns of all time, lasting from January to July 1986. With desperation lurking in every Dublin supporter's heart, the pressure on the new regime will be enormous.

Whelan lost the fans and decided to walk away in 1997; Carr lost the confidence of the County's Board management committee this year but opted to fight on, only to be voted out on the casting vote of chairman, John Bailey.

Clearly, losing anything is not an option for the new management in a climate which is so highly-charged that it could quite probably power flood lights at Parnell Park.

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