During my playing career, I lost count of the number of times I was earnestly advised by a large number of people to keep playing as long as possible.
could never quite fathom why they were so focused and so intense when offering the advice but over recent years their opinion has not so much been viewed by me in a different light as interpreted from another angle.
With numerous counties striving to obtain the services of new managers either in football or hurling and clubs up and down the country putting the finishing touches to their plans for their domestic championships, I see management in a new light.
Having spent some time involved in team management of late, I have come to fully understand why many people were so focused on seeing me extend my playing career.
The reason, of course, is that they were all too well aware of the many difficulties that managers both at club and county level face on a daily basis and that’s why I have tremendous admiration for someone like Conor Laverty who, even though he has a young family of four and in normal circumstances faces a daily trip to Dublin for his work as Trinity College GAA Development Officer, is still prepared to accept the formidable challenge of attempting to restore the fortunes of his native Down.
The past year has been one of the most forgettable seasons in the Morne County history but I have a feeling that Laverty’s commitment, enthusiasm and sheer pride in his county will prove key elements going forward. He is taking over at a time when morale is at rock bottom, the willingness of players to throw their weight behind the county is questionable and the future has to be viewed as bleak.
Think about it — Laverty, in common with his managerial brethren, has to try and keep 30-plus players happy when you can only start 15 in any given game, you have a backroom team that you constantly strive to placate, you have players’ relatives who are never slow to give you an earful and then you have the fans who believe you should be making a bold bid for trophies year on year.
When you factor in fulfilling your employment, undertaking the myriad of duties that a family of three children bring to the table and doing the paperwork that goes along with management it can be quickly seen that life is far from being a bed of roses.
There are a number of counties up and down the country right now that are consumed by the task of finding new football and hurling managers and their task is not made any easier given that there are no orderly queues forming for the posts.
I am well aware of the ongoing debate surrounding the payment of managers’ expenses but really there are many occasions on which I feel that money could not pay you for all that you would be expected to undertake.
Take it from me, team management is an absolutely unforgiving environment. Good players don’t always make good managers and part of that is simply frustration. The manager is expected to take on board every little problem that surfaces — in fact, in some cases, he can be blamed for it!
When the manager strives to lift fitness standards and indeed enhance systems of playing, he can incur unnecessary criticism simply because he might be asking his players to put their shoulder to the wheel.
And this more than anything annoys managers as they bid to bring about improvements on the field of play.
Given my own experience, I would urge all players regardless of what level they are at to keep playing for as long as they are able — or wanted — as the case may be.
Maybe I was foolish not to have paid attention to the sound advice I was given. I could maybe have had another couple of years as a player and believe me that would surely have totally convinced me that there is no substitute for playing.
There may be different roles in any club or county set-up to be fulfilled but simply being a player beats everything else hands down.
Here we are on the verge of the club championships and many managers will be feeling the heat as they ponder their starting line-ups, their match-day 26 strong panels and the options they have on the bench.
Nothing is straightforward. Managers invariably find themselves confronted with problems and while there are those around them willing to chip in with advice and guidance, at the end of the day any decision that is taken is deemed to be the manager’s and his — or her’s as the case may be — alone.
I am certainly not endeavoring to dissuade people from becoming involved in management, rather I am pointing out potential pitfalls and pressures.
Had we been confronted by the situation we are in today with numerous managerial vacancies throughout the country a few years ago, there would have been a clamor for the jobs.
That is not the case right now given people’s reticence to enter a pressure-cooker situation.
The split season has become more of a thorny issue recently rather than the solution to what was seen to be the perennial problem occasioned by the club and inter-county season overlap.
It would appear that quite a lot of people are having difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that the All-Ireland finals in football and hurling have been put to bed and inter-county action will not resume until the start of next year.
Yet it would seem that club action on an ongoing basis between now and January may not be sufficient to satiate appetites.
Indeed, there is the very real prospect that late September could prove to be the end of the season for some clubs if they fail to make an impact in their various championships.
But I believe that officials, players and fans should put any thoughts of what the future might hold to the back of their minds and instead focus strongly on the menu of action that will be on offer over the coming months.
As I understand it, the club itinerary is set to benefit from even more generous television coverage going forward and this I feel will add to its appeal.
The fact that club games will be afforded widespread publicity can do nothing but benefit the GAA in general and could well prove instrumental in recruiting new converts to the sport.
I think that any snap judgments on the merits of the split season, brought in last year at Congress when overseen by president Larry McCarthy in which we are currently immersed should be put on the back burner for the moment at least and instead everyone should try their utmost to participate in whatever way they can in the club season over the course of the next few months.
From my observations, I am convinced that players are enjoying the new structure of the season. Indeed, the majority appear to be happy with this since it affords them the opportunity to enjoy a generous ration of down time later in the year and indeed perhaps a particularly lengthy sojourn should their sides exit their county championships at an early stage.
This would afford players the opportunity to spend time with their families and friends and indeed to take a complete break from GAA activity so that they might return to action suitably reinvigorated.
I think ultimately the players will have a big say in how the format for future seasons pans out — we are still at the trial stage, it must be remembered — and when GAA chiefs sit down to do their stocktaking on how the current season progressed we might hear some interesting recommendations.
For the moment, though, I think the onus is on all of us with the best interests of the Association at heart to give the remainder of this season every support they can. Then, when the curtain comes down, the future can be addressed properly.