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‘If Jim Gavin went to Cork in the morning would it work? No’ – Tommy Carr on why ‘outside’ managers rarely succeed


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Theirs has been an extraordinary fall from grace. Just 76 days ago, Derry were crowned league winners after an enthralling tussle with Dublin in Croke Park.

As back-to-back Ulster champions, claiming a national title by beating last year’s All-Ireland winners in the GAA’s championship venue was the next logical step on their way to scaling Everest and claiming Sam Maguire.

Since then there has been a remarkable implosion. Three quick championship defeats have sent them into a tailspin.

They conceded a whopping 9-42 in those games, 8-34 of that from play, leaving Derry’s hard-earned reputation as a team who could end the season on the Hogan Stand in tatters.

Their season has a pulse – but only just. Not even a draw would do them in Páirc Esler tomorrow night, thanks to Westmeath’s superior score difference.

And if they do get through tomorrow night, they’ll have exactly one week before they have to go and fight for their season again. For many, their position is unrecoverable.

In the absence of an explanation for Derry’s sudden demise, rumours about the hows and whys of their downfall have whirred.

At one point, it was suggested Harte had left the role. Those rumours whipped around the country so fast that Derry officials moved to quell the flames.

“Mickey Harte is and will remain as Derry manager, 100 per cent. We’ve an important game against Westmeath and we are fully united,” Derry GAA chairman John Keenan said.

For some, Harte and Derry were never a fit. It often wasn’t personal, rather the notion of a Tyrone man taking over the Derry footballers just stuck in the craw.

And Harte isn’t just any Tyrone man either, more the architect of the modern Tyrone. That he was the man to help them over the line didn’t sit well with some.

As an organisation, the GAA is built on imaginary lines dividing counties and parishes. But they engender genuine emotion and outside managers have, at best, a mixed history in the GAA.

Through stints in Roscommon and Cavan after he had been in charge of his native Dublin, Tommy Carr learned there are benefits to coming in with a fresh perspective.

He came into a Roscommon set-up reeling after an infamous swimming pool incident and enjoyed some early success, helping them to an All-Ireland quarter-final.

“You’ve a clean slate, no baggage, [you are] very objective, and have no emotional ties to clubs, to county boards, chairmen or officials.

“You’d have some research done but you don’t know the personalities, the politics – and you are not interested.

“You don’t need to be cognisant of things that might get in the way politically and club-wise. That’s the surrounding stuff.

“Then it’s the players’ bit. You are objective on players, they will have reputations and you think he won’t be like that with me or you will manage it better than the previous guy but you are very objective on players too.”

Tommy Carr in 2017 during a spell as fitness coach with the Westmeath hurlers. Photo: Sportsfile

But in time he learned that those fissures are only ever beneath the surface. And when the heat comes on, he reckons the outsider, in any county, is the easiest sacrifice.

“If there’s an issue it’s up to the management to sort that issue, but an outside manager will get less time to sort it because the county board then needs to keep everybody happy with all the club politics and the various officials in the county.

“And the easy thing is to say, ‘this isn’t working out’. But if you are someone actually from the county then it’s much harder for a county board to do that.”

There have been some notable ‘outside manager’ success stories.

John O’Mahony achieved great things with Leitrim and Galway. Mick O’Dwyer worked the oracle in Laois and Kildare, while Eugene McGee will be forever remembered in Offaly. But for Carr, the emotional ties to people and place will always win out.

“I think in general it [having an outside manager] doesn’t work. And I think in general if it hasn’t worked in the first two years it is not going to work.

“It worked for John O’Mahony, yes. Is it working for Mickey Harte? No. If Jim McGuinness went to Galway in the morning would it work? We don’t know. If Jim Gavin went to Cork in the morning would it work? No, it wouldn’t because it’s a totally different psyche and set of players. It’s an interesting conversation as to why.

“But the GAA is more than just a management-player thing. I’ve come to realise that. It’s a really community thing, a real emotional thing. It’s deeper.”

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