Is Antrim just a stepping stone? – John Martin
GEOGRAPHY has long been the staple – and lazy – blanket term used as an explanation for the under-achievement of Ulster, and Antrim in particular, over the years. And while it’s a major factor, it’s just one of many that contribute to euphoria-despair cycle – more despair than euphoria – that goes with following the Saffrons.
Aside from the cost of travel and accommodation to play challenge games, lack of schools activity etc. that goes with being isolated from hurling’s heartland, another factor has been the lack of opportunity for Ulster counties to tap into the pool of up and coming managers.
It seems however that this is changing. Antrim now appears to be well and truly on the radar of managers who are looking for a stepping stone or wanting to clock up some MacCarthy Cup mileage.
The likes of Dublin, Laois, Carlow, Kildare and Westmeath have all been able to benefit for years from ‘hurling men’ either living in the county or willing to make a relatively short journey to further their managerial credentials.
Over the years there’s been short-lived Ulster liaisons with ‘men from the south’, most notably Justin McCarthy back in 1970 who guided Antrim to an All-Ireland intermediate title. That success didn’t begin a trend however and although various counties have worked on and off with coaches and managers from different counties, it wasn’t until 2002 that Dinny Cahill made the trip from Tipp to manage Antrim for three and a half seasons.
Cahill returned in 2009 for another two years. As part of his back room team in those two years, he took with him men from Cork, Offaly and Dublin.
Cahill was replaced by a Cork man in the form of Jerry Wallace. Granted, things didn’t work out with the Middleton man, but his willingness to do the job and the willingness of men like Bob Thornhill, David Kennedy and Ollie Baker to travel north is noteworthy in itself. Wallace was an established and respected coach who wanted to make the break into management. He saw Antrim as an ideal opportunity.
The full story is in the current issue of Gaelic Life, published on Thursday September 20. Buy your copy now in your local newsagent, or you can purchase the online version – for only 90p – by clicking here