2019 ready

Continuity is key as top two secure services of their exceptional managers once again

All-Ireland winning bosses Mick Bohan and Ephie Fitzgerald are staying on with Dublin and Cork respectively.

WHILE THE SPOTLIGHT has been on one big management job across the length and breadth of the country this week, it’s been a busy one in terms of another sport too. 

The big one is of course Martin O’Neill’s successor as manager of the Republic of Ireland soccer team, but there’s also been plenty of news of the ladies football managerial front.

Mick Bohan with Ephie Fitzgerald after the game Bohan and Fitzgerald after the 2018 final. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

This year’s All-Ireland finalists Dublin and Cork both confirmed their respective managers for 2019, with Mick Bohan and Ephie Fitzgerald staying on for more.

No changing of the guard with the top two, the continuity is definitely pleasing.

Looking first at Dublin, Clontarf clubman Bohan has done a stellar job since taking the reins in December 2016 — and has committed two more years to the reigning champions. 

Coming into the job, he faced a difficult task. The Sky Blues had suffered three consecutive All-Ireland final defeats to Cork in the preceding years, each by the narrowest of margins. 

The hurt, the heartbreak, the mental scars; Bohan was dealt the duty of picking the players up to go again and build on the solid foundations laid by Gregory McGonigle before him.

This, many often forget, is his second stint in charge. He guided Dublin to an All-Ireland final appearance in 2003, but they suffered defeat to Mayo. Captain and 2018 TG4 Player of the Year nominee Sinead Aherne was there then, and Sinead Finnegan and Siobhan McGrath were both involved with the panel, but much has changed since.

Before coming back for a second bite at the cherry, Bohan compiled an impressive CV and culminated plenty of experience, mainly through the men’s game.

A PE Teacher by trade, Bohan previously worked as a skills coach alongside Jim Gavin when All-Ireland wins were achieved at U21 level in 2010 and 2012, and then with the seniors in 2013.

He was involved in Sigerson Cup wins with DCU, and has enjoyed spells with Dublin clubs Lucan Sarsfields, Thomas Davis and his home outfit of Clontarf. He worked as a coach to the Clare senior footballers in 2016, alongside Colm Collins.

Mick Bohan and Noelle Healy celebrate Bohan with Noelle Healy. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

From there, he returned to the Jackies and put a huge, huge emphasis on improving basic skills and raising the standard of the ladies game. If you watched the brilliant ‘Blues Sisters’ documentary, or indeed have read any interview with the man himself, you’ll have a fair idea of his logic and opinion, and the gospel he preaches.

“If you want people to watch you play, then raise the standard. The onus is on the players.”

Something along those lines is said in pretty much every interview he participates in, and it’s most definitely seeped through to his players too. They always mention it.

His way of thinking and rationale, and his management style has most definitely worked with this group, reflected in the fact that the Brendan Martin Cup has wintered in the capital the last two years.

The 2017 and 2018 All-Ireland champions are a clinical and extremely well-drilled outfit and with youth on their side, it appears that they’ve really unleashed a reign of terror, similar to the one Cork had before them.

While in 2017, Bohan used the Lidl Ladies National League to blood new players, and try and test old reliables in new positions, they peaked in the summer and finally ended a seven-year wait for All-Ireland glory as they beat Mayo on a scoreline of 4-11 to 0-11.

In 2018, the league was used in a similar way but the focus was more on adding to the trophy cabinet. They did so, lifting the Division 1 title for the first time. They followed that up with a seventh Leinster crown in-a-row, before writing more history in September with the county’s first back-to-back All-Ireland titles.

With three in-a-row very much the target in 2019, Dublin will be delighted to have Mick Bohan driving that bid once again. Continuity is very much key, and it’s clear to see that players are happy under his watch. 

Mick Bohan celebrates at the final whistle Thumbs up for the 2018 double. Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

His exploits have garnered attention from far and wide, linked with Roscommon men’s job recently, but Dublin will breathe a sigh of relief that they’ve held onto him with pen put to paper on a new two-year deal earlier this week.

The news that Ephie Fizgerald is staying on with Cork for a fourth season at the helm broke shortly after Bohan’s re-appointment was confirmed on Wednesday. 

Also a big hit with his players, the continuity and flow should work in their favour in 2019 as they look to bounce back after a first-ever All-Ireland final loss. 

Looking back to Fitzgerald’s arrival in early 2016, it was much, much different to Bohan’s twelve months later. With the Rebels riding the crest of a wave, the Nemo Rangers man was given the task of following one of the most successful managers in Gaelic games history.

The great Eamonn Ryan oversaw 26 titles — including ten senior All-Irelands — during his reign from 2004 to 2015.

Fitzgerald’s first job at hand was to deliver a fourth Division 1 league title in-a-row and despite a sluggish start to the competition as he found his bearings and adjusted to his new role, he did just that.

It came as the former Nemo players’ first stint in charge of a senior inter-county ladies team, but like Bohan, he had buckets of experience of the mens’ game. He steered both his home club and Ballylanders of Limerick to county championship successes, he served as manager of the Cork minor men’s team and coached and selected for the Limerick and Clare seniors respectively. 

He was well and truly thrown into the limelight that September as Cork chased — and successfully sealed — an 11th Brendan Martin Cup in 12 years. 

Ephie Fitzgerald Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

By the time January 2017 rolled around, people were writing them off. The end of an era, they said, as the Leesiders entered a period of transition when many of their stalwarts stepped away.

Neither of their 11-time All-Ireland SFC winners, and dual stars, Breige Corkery or Rena Buckley returned to the fold. Deirdre O’Reilly had retired. Captain Ciara O’Sullivan and her sister, Roisin, both went travelling for a while, while 2016 Footballer of the Year Bríd Stack struggled with injury.

Their much less experienced young guns stepped up when it mattered most, how and ever, proving the doubters wrong as they collected a fifth league title in-a-row, a ninth in 10 years — and Fitzgerald was evidently delighted.

The tables soon turned though, and Cork failed to reach the Munster decider having contested the provincial showpiece from 2004-2016 inclusive.

Further shockwaves were sent around ladies football circles when they bowed out of the All-Ireland championship at the semi-final stage to Mayo in Breffni Park. A national decider without Cork was a weird one, but Dublin finally put the hurt to bed and got over the line.

This year, again powered by youth, they blooded more and more rising talent in another mixed season. They exited the league title race in the last four but retained their Munster championship crown. They returned to Croke Park for All-Ireland final day and played some phenomenal football along the way, but fell just short to Bohan’s Dubs.

It’s scary to think that eight Cork players made their All-Ireland final debuts that day, and that only bodes well for 2019 and further afield.

They’ll surely bottle the hurt of losing a first-ever final and come back all guns blazing, under the trusted guidance of Fitzgerald. 

Saoirse Noonan with manger manager Ephie Fitzgerald after the game Comforting rising star Saoirse Noonan. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Continuity will most definitely be key for 2018′s top two sides; stick to what they know because it has worked. A look at the chasing pack, however, suggests that they’re turning to freshness and new inspiration at the helm as they look to close the gap.

Galway, the only side who beat Dublin in competitive action in 2018, have appointed Oranmore Maree’s Tim Rabbitte as their new manager after Stephen Glennon stepped down from his position.

“I am unable to give the role – and these magnificent bunch of players – the 100% commitment and dedication they deserve in 2019,” he wrote.

Kerry have announced Spa clubman Donal O’Doherty as their new boss as they hope to put their 2018 struggles behind them, while it’s unclear yet what the story is in Donegal.

There’s change expected elsewhere, while Mayo have confirmed Peter Leahy’s commitment to the cause until 2021 as they look to do their talking on the pitch after an extremely difficult summer.

Likewise, there’s no changing of the guard in Tipperary as Shane Ronayne prepares to lead his charges into top-flight league football in January.

It’s hard to judge yet how things will go elsewhere, but from past experiences, continuity at the top has definitely paid off and Bohan and Fitzgerald will only continue the stellar work they’ve done with – their respective counties over the past few years in 2019.

- Updated 12.08pm 

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