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Davy Fitzgerald, Jim McGuinness and where it all went wrong for the Dublin hurlers

Fitzgerald and McGuinness have shown the importance of good man-management in the past.

IN THE LEAD up to Wexford’s Leinster championship opener against Carlow, Seamus ‘Banty’ McEnaney made an interesting observation about the responsibilities of an inter-county manager.

Ger Cunningham Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“I like to bring unity and create a bond in the dressing room,” he told The42. “I believe it’s the manager’s responsibility to have the best players playing with the group.

“I’d like to think I’m quite good at that. We’ve got the best players in Wexford. I had to talk with more experienced players before I took the job to make sure they were going to be there.”

Wexford’s subsequent defeat to Carlow doesn’t take away from the point McEnaney was trying to make. It’s the manager’s responsibility to have the best players playing with the group.

Matchday tactics, team selection and implementing a training schedule are all important factors, but ensuring the best players make themselves available is equally vital for an inter-county team to succeed.

Much of that comes down to man-management. There’s a reason good coaches don’t always make good managers.

Jim McGuinness celebrates the final whistle with Neil McGee and Eamonn McGee Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Shortly after was appointed Donegal boss in the winter of 2010, Jim McGuinness met with Eamon McGee. He outlined what it would take to be part of the set-up.

McGee wanted in, but mistakenly went for a few pints after the meeting. McGuinness got wind of it.

The Gweedore man was dropped from the panel. He impressed in a few club games that spring and another call arrived from McGuinness following the 2011 league campaign.

“Do you want to give it a go, Eamon?”

“No bother, Jim.”

McGee was welcomed back into the panel and would go on to play in two All-Ireland finals, winning one. McGuinness was willing to swallow his ego and give the player another shot.

Would Donegal have been as successful without Eamon McGee in their team? It’s highly unlikely.

Wexford hurling is experiencing a revival of sorts under Davy Fitzgerald, but it wasn’t long ago when one of the county’s best players wasn’t turning out for them.

Jack Guiney Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Jack Guiney was dropped from the Wexford panel by manager Liam Dunne for a breach of discipline in June 2015. He was 21 years-old and was top-scorer for Wexford in the league that year with a tally of 2-26. About 10 days later, he bagged 4-4 from play for his club Rathnure in a league game. A call from Dunne never arrived.

He rejoined the squad that winter, but by February he was gone again. This time it was of his own accord. Guiney put his departure down to “personal reasons” amid rumours of a disagreement with management.

It’s unclear if an olive branch was ever extended by Dunne to Guiney in 2016, but the talented forward remained out in the cold.

When Fitzgerald took charge of Wexford, he coaxed Guiney back into the set-up. He gave the Rathnure man the opportunity to rebuild his fitness levels before reintroducing him to the team in the latter stages of the league.

In their Leinster SHC quarter-final against Laois, Guiney mad a massive impact after coming off the bench at half-time. He assisted Wexford’s first two points of the half and then set-up Aidan Nolan’s goal. Guiney had a goal disallowed and eventually found the net himself in the 52nd minute.

It’s likely he’ll have a huge role to play when the Model County take on Kilkenny in the semi-final next month. Fitzgerald deserves credit for the way he’s cajoled Guiney and refused to leave him behind.

Davy Fitzgerald celebrates with Conor McDonald at the final whistle Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Davy Fitzgerald factor has nearly become a cliché in the GAA. But what does it actually mean?

Wing-back Diarmuid O’Keeffe was asked that very question at a press event back in April.

“The Davy Fitz factor?” O’Keeffe replied. ”In my eyes, Davy is very similar to a lot of the other managers I would have worked under.

“It’s really just his way of man-managing. He’s seen by the media on the sideline, going mad a bit, and that’s just his way of showing his passion for the game.

“But look, I don’t really buy into the whole Davy factor. He brings his own passion to the whole set up and that’s just his way of doing things. But he’s also an excellent man manager, and an excellent communicator. He knows what he wants and he is very good at getting that across to his players. Those are his real strengths I feel.”

Strip away all the talk about his sweeper system and passion on the sideline, and it comes down to Fitzgerald’s people skills. His ability to get everyone rowing in the same direction is what makes him a top class manager.

When Anthony Daly was Dublin hurling manager, he left no stone unturned as he sought to have the best players lining out for the county.

He pursued Cormac Costello, Eric Lowndes and Ciaran Kilkenny but they joined the football panel instead. No matter.

Anthony Daly with Paul Schutte Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Under Daly’s infectious personality, Dublin won the 2011 National League, reached the All-Ireland semi-final the same year and lifted the Leinster title in 2013.

Following on from the popular Clare legend was never going to be easy, but Ger Cunningham has failed to get the buy-in from Dublin’s elite players.

While the likes of Michael Carton, Joey Boland, Michael Carton and Conal Keaney may be past their best, Peter Kelly, Shane Durkin, Simon Lambert, Johnny McCaffrey, Sean Treacy, Colm Cronin, Danny Sutcliffe, Paul Ryan and the Schutte brothers are all in their 20s and good enough to be involved.

In isolation, one or two players dropping off the panel may not be an issue. But the absence of so many experienced players points to a deeper problem.

Another red flag has been the significant turnover in the backroom team since Cunningham took charge.

“I know he was thinking of really trying to get back involved last year,” Keaney recently said about Sutcliffe, one of the most gifted hurlers in the country.

“But I think personalities really came into it and they (Sutcliffe and Cunningham) just clashed.”

Danny Sutcliffe and Pat Hughes Source: Andy Marlin/INPHO

Former boss Daly addressed the high-profile absentees on RTÉ 2fm’s Game On on Monday night.

“I’d just love to see the Dubs with five guys, maybe six guys who I think should be there starting.

“Ger Cunningham is a very, very astute guy. I remember him making two changes for Cork (when he was a selector in 2005), probably costing Clare an All-Ireland.

“We were leading them by six points and he made the call (to John Allen) take off Ronan Curran and Brian Corcoran, two iconic men.

“I’ll never forget it. He came down from the stands and said it. It was a massive call.”

Cunningham is a decent man by all accounts. He’s also a fine coach who has a deep understanding of the game. From the outside looking in, his man-management skills appear be letting him down.

“It just doesn’t seem to be gelling at the minute,” added Daly.

Therein lies the problem.

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Kevin O'Brien

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