Never Go Back: The hits and misses of inter-county management returns


Never go back! That’s what they say at least. Whether it’s referring to work or relationships or whatever else, the idea of returning to something one has done before, has always been warned against.

But what of inter-county management? Two of the most high profile managerial appointments of the autumn have been of managers (Liam Sheedy with Tipperary and James Horan of Mayo) returning to their old posts, and with talk that Anthony Daly may be restored to the Dublin hot seat the idea of going back to your old job is more in vogue than ever.

But just how effective is the inter-county managerial return? Here we analyse the hits and misses of the genre from a hurling perspective. A word of warning to Sheedy though, the majority of returns have seen more heartache than happiness.
CYRIL FARRELL (Galway 1979-1981, 1984-1991, 1996-1998)
Before he became one of the game’s most beloved pundits (as such), it’s almost been forgotten that Cyril Farrell was one of the most successful managers in hurling history. Certainly, in Galway at least, no one has ever come close to matching his level of achievement. It was Farrell who led the county to the promised land of All-Ireland success in 1980 after 57 years in the wilderness.
After a sabbatical of a few years, he returned to even greater success in the late 80’s as he and the team captured a further 2 All-Irelands, while also appearing in 5 consecutive finals. Perhaps, after a comprehensive defeat by Tipperary in the 1991 championship, Farrell should have left it at that, but he had a third bite of the cherry between 1996 and 1998. This tenure, proved to be less celebratory though, and he departed stage left 2 years later, without having won a championship game. However, for his work in the late 80’s at least, Farrell can easily claim to have been worthy of another chance.
JIMMY BARRY MURPHY (Cork, 1996-2000, 2010-2014)
How successful Jimmy Barry’s second spell as Cork Manager was depends on your perspective I guess. In Cork, hard currency is often only measured in term’s of All-Ireland’s won. By that rationale then, perhaps Jimmy Barry’s second spell as manager was not a success. Then again, his Cork side was only a minute away from scooping a smash and grab All-Ireland raid in 2013, to add to his success in 1999. Alas it wasn’t to be, but while the sum total of his 9 years of management may be just one All-Ireland, he came closer to anyone over the last 13 years of ending Cork’s unlikely drought.
JOHNNY CLIFFORD (Cork 1982-83, 1985-88, 1993-95)
It sounds like a name from a bygone era, and in a sense it is. The late Johnny Clifford guided Cork to an All-Ireland final in 1983 and, though unsuccessful, he came back for another go a few years later. In 1986 however, he managed to secure an All-Ireland title for the rebels. He did manage another inter-county spell in the 90’s as well, but unfortunately, by this stage, the midas touch was somewhat absent.
PAT HENDERSON (Kilkenny, 1978-80, 1981-87)
Fado fado in Eireann, when Brian Cody was just a young whippersnapper, Pat Henderson and Eddie Keher were joint managers of the Kilkenny senior hurling team. While not working with the most elite group of players the county had ever produced, the pair managed to garner an unlikely All-Ireland victory in 1979, before resigning after a shock defeat to Offaly in the 1980 championship.
A year or so later, Henderson was asked back, sans Keher this time, and managed to produce back to back All-Irelands in 1982 and 83. Unfortunately that was to be as good as it got, and after a barren last four years, Henderson stepped down as manager in 1987.
BABS KEATING (Tipperary 1986-1994, 2005-2007)
In the last few years it has become fashionable, and indeed somewhat justifiable, to mock Babs’ various, incendiary pronouncements on the state of hurling. But, in the late 80’s and early 90’s at least he was at the cutting edge of inter-county management. Certainly, guiding a Tipperary team from a 16 year famine, to 5 Munster and 2 All-Ireland successes in 7 years, has to go down as his greatest achievement. He also introduced certain innovations to the GAA, such as the setting up of a supporters club to help with team funding.
After stepping down in 1994 though, Babs went through a nomadic period where he took on jobs, with substantially less success, in the likes of Offaly and Laois. His infamous “sheep in a heap” comment about the Offaly players in 1998, should have been a warning to the Tipp county board that perhaps his man management skills were not what they should have been, but nevertheless after a barren few years, they decided to reinstate him to the hot seat at the start of the 2006 season. It wasn’t their brightest move. If the 2006 season was a disappointing one, then dropping the likes of Brendan Cummins and Eoin Kelly for the All-Ireland quarter final  in 2007 was certainly not the best idea and it resulted in the county’s departure at the hands of Wexford.
JOHN MCINTYRE (Offaly 1997 2005-2007)
While McIntyre is a respected journalist in Galway, and has achieved some success as a club manager with Clarinbridge, his record as an inter-county manager is patchy at best. Appointed by the Offaly county board at the peak of their powers in the mid 90’s, he managed only one season in 1997 as the side were dumped out of the championship by Wexford. Undeterred, the same county came back to welcome him in the mid 00’s when the side were going through a significantly worse spell. As it happened, McIntyre didn’t exactly succeed in reviving their fortunes, and they shipped a number of heavy defeats before he stepped down again in 2007.
MICHAEL BOND (OFFALY 1998-99, 2000-01)
“The name’s Bond, Michael….” yeah we all know the gag by this stage. That’s what you get for having a surname like that. Now granted, Bond certainly was a bit of a man of mystery when he arrived into the Offaly hurling training session in 1998 and none of the players knew who he was, but, in one of the greatest GAA stories of modern times, just two months later he was walking out of Croke Park with the Liam McCarthy cup in his hands. The Galway man stepped down after a devastating semi-final defeat against Cork in 1999, but returned just over a year later to try and return the county to their former glory. Regrettably, the 00’s were the start of a downturn in Offaly hurling fortunes and after a heavy defeat against Kilkenny in that year’s championship, the aforementioned Bond was never seen in inter-county management again.
MATTIE MURPHY (Galway, 1994-96, 1998-2000)
The fiery Murphy is a unique and entertaining character, but for some reason his success at minor level with the county, never translated into a similar harvest at senior level. The 90’s were a barren spell for Galway in hurling terms and during Murphy’s tenure, they never even succeeded in reaching an All-Ireland final. Perhaps the most galling game of all was against Clare in the quarter final of 1999. Well into the second half, Ollie Canning, operating as a forward, contrived to miss a sitter in front of goal and Loughnane’s Clare staged a dramatic comeback. After a similarly unsuccessful 2000 season, Murphy returned to what he does best, picking up underage All-Ireland titles. At this stage he has managed to garner 6 All-Ireland minor medals as coach. His failure with the seniors then, remains a mystery.
GERALD McCARTHY (Cork 1980-82, 2006-09)
A difficult one this. As a player, Gerard McCarthy was a legend in Cork hurling terms, winning 5 All-Ireland medals. As a manager, he brought Waterford to the All-Ireland semi-final for the first time in 35 years and was hugely respected there. But after being manager of Cork in the early part of the 1980’s, he was appointed, much to the player’s chagrin, in the latter part of the 00’s, almost 25 years later. Maybe it was a generational gap, maybe it was just the wishes of a particularly militant group of Cork Players, but things did not go to plan second time around. After a torturous two year reign that included him receiving death threats, McCarthy stepped down for a final time in 2009. It was a sorry episode that did no one any favours.
DONAL O’GRADY (Limerick 2010-11, 2013-14)
A little like Gerald McCarthy, although less controversially, O’Grady’s return to inter county management ended in acrimony. After a promising year in 2011 the Cork man decided to leave the post suddenly at the end of the year. He returned in a joint manager role at the start of the 2014 season, but after a poor league, resigned when comments he made, supposedly confidentially, at a county board meeting were leaked into the public domain. As it happened, his co-manager TJ Ryan did quite well in his absence, and led the county to an All-Ireland semi-final, where they were agonizingly pipped at the post by Kilkenny.