I have always been amused by the fuss that has been made about the Dublin backroom team.
The only thing they don’t have is a gynecologist,” as one expert put it, which in fairness to him was a pretty good retort.
There was a photo taken after the 2016 All-Ireland Final with 23 of them and basically the reaction could be split into two categories: sneering and wringing hands.
The sneer was pretty basic. Very Irish. Very GAA.
Why do they need all these people? How does a yoga instructor help you toss a ball over the bar? What exactly does Bernard Dunne do do?
If you thought your setup could be improved by bringing in additional people, what kind of manager would you be if you weren’t trying to bring them in?
Where is the great virtue of having a small back office team?
Some think that some of these people are useless.
Pat Spillane’s rant about “psychologists, statisticians, dietitians” and “bluffers with headphones” immediately comes to mind here, but I think there’s a truth in what he said that got lost in delivery.
Statisticians, nutritionists, performance coaches will add elements to a high performance environment, but they will not make up for the absence of the basics.
If your management isn’t good enough, if player skills aren’t trained properly and they aren’t coached with an effective game plan, you could have Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and the ghost of Vince Lombardi you. giving messages in your earpiece and it wouldn’t make any difference.
People look for the wrong things.
The clandestine nature of team preparation in Gaelic Inter-County Games means that we only see an outside management team. So we cling to the decor without appreciating the foundations.
One year we did a few light sessions with Mark Ingle, the basketball coach, just for something different during preseason.
People found out and it became a bit of a talking point that summer and by the time we beat Tyrone in the All-Ireland final all of our offensive coordination was credited to us adopting basketball tactics -ball.
Meanwhile, Jason Sherlock, who spent eight months designing, fine-tuning and coaching our offense, was barely mentioned.
Handwringing was something I could never understand.
“How can anyone else compete with that kind of professionalism?” is the gist of it and assumes that our management team was made up of well-paid people.
There was a great interview with John Courtney in The examr last weekend.
‘The Colonel’ – he was literally a colonel in the army – is a Corkman living in Kildare who once ruled Offaly. Jim Gavin knew him through the Defense Forces.
He retired in 2012 when Jim took over, and after being invited, he became an important part of our group.
The colonel would be there at training, helping the stats guys and the equipment men get set up or in the room where we would eat afterwards, making sure the plates and cutlery were out.
He would referee our A vs B matches and on match days when we were playing at Croke Park John would be at Clones or Killarney or Salthill keeping an eye out for some potential future opponents for Jim.
Jim trusted him so he was in our inner sanctum and he never took a penny for the work he did.
John has a way of it. He is a positive and engaging company and he knows what he is talking about.
Considering the hours we’ve spent together, the value of simply having people like that around you is impossible to overestimate.
John worked closely with Frankie Roebuck, another man few people have heard of. Frankie taught Jim at school, but like John he had retired in 2012. Between them, they would make sure our analysis was up to snuff.
There was Davey Hendrix, our kitman, and Davy and Tony Boylan – who had their own business and could devote a lot of their time.
Some of these roles didn’t even have specific titles.
When Pat Gilroy took over, he brought in his business partner Podge Byrne to advise the guys on their careers or send them back to college and make sure they made good decisions in that part of their lives.
All these people added something without taking anything.
Bernard Dunne was world champion. He had been at the top of his game. He understood the need to strike a balance between high performance and sustaining real life.
He didn’t teach us how to box or tell us how to live our lives. He was just a good guy to talk to, to work things out with. A peaceful mind makes a good athlete.
David Hickey was another. An incredible man.
Here is a person who had done everything in the field, was still a world famous surgeon. He had publicly spoken out against the US blockade of medical supplies in Cuba.
He was a folk hero to us and suddenly he was among us, telling us we could win ten All-Irelands before we even got our first.
We didn’t get to ten in the end, but a few of us finished with eight and I’m sure Hickey’s very energetic optimism rubbed off and played its part.
All these people got involved without looking for the star or the reward and when we spoke about the humility of our group, we heard them as much as we did.
This does not mean that we were different from others. There are people doing the same in counties across the country who never see their work materialize in the same way in terms of success.
This is just to emphasize that a high quality back office team doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Ours certainly did not.
It’s about designing your ideal size and shape, trying to fill the roles with competent, positive, and engaged people, and then tweaking and improving them every year.
But first, you need to be realistic about the size of the support group needed now at the inter-county level.
Break it down.
If I’m an inter-county coach, I need a number two, a defensive coach and an offensive coach. They are my selectors.
A performance coach is essential, as is a goalkeeping coach. A strength and conditioning coach would usually have a trainee by their side.
You need a video analyst and two, maybe three, people collecting and processing the analysis, plus two physios and two kitmen.
It’s 16 people at the absolute minimum.
Ideally, you would also have someone in charge of logistics. A nutritionist would be beneficial, although there is greater awareness of this aspect of preparation now, so it’s probably not essential.
In the perfect scenario, we would have a few scouts to monitor opposing teams and depending on county profile and level of business activity, someone to handle media inquiries and/or a county council liaison.
Now, a few of those roles could be merged. But we went well over 20 people without even thinking about it.
Your job as a manager is not to do everything yourself. It’s about creating the best environment for your team to thrive.
If it means bringing in a ventriloquist, a team of divers or the priest, what chance?