IT HAS been a sad and difficult week for me. I have a lot of respect for Offaly hurling
people and for the most part I enjoyed my time as the Offaly
manager, so it's a terrible disappointment to me that it ended the
way it did. A couple of years ago, when I helped Johnny Pilkington
with some personal problems, little did I think that he would betray
me, but that's the way things have worked out.
I left Croke Park on Sunday determined to get an Offaly team
right for the All-Ireland quarter-final. The selectors and I knew we
had problems to address and so too did the players. After the match
I made a short speech to the players reminding them of how well
Tipperary did last year after losing the Munster final and saying
that Offaly could still win the All-Ireland.
As captain for the day I asked Brian Whelahan to respond. In the
course of his speech he said that there were players in the dressing
room who were not showing the commitment needed and whose behaviour
in the week of the match was deplorable. Brian knows that it wasn't
me or him who was drinking until 12.30 on Saturday night.
I had been dying with the 'flu for a couple of days and didn't
feel well enough to go to the Poitin Stil for the team meal on
Sunday night. I guessed that a certain amount of talking had gone on
when I got a phone call the following morning from Brendan Ward, the
county board chairman, looking for a meeting. I had an appointment
with the doctor at six o'clock so they offered to travel to the Spa
Hotel in Lucan. The other selectors, Paudge Mulhare and Pat
McLoughney, were present, along with county secretary Christy Todd,
hurling secretary Tony Murphy and Brendan.
The meeting lasted three hours and I came out of it thinking that
it had been very positive and constructive. We sketched out the team
for our next game so that we could train players in their positions
for the next three weeks and we set plans in motion for two
My after-match comments were raised, but it was an insignificant
part of the meeting. Paudge made the point that he interpreted my
remarks about our fellas bunching on the field and playing like
"sheep in a heap" as a criticism of myself and my failure to get
them playing the way I wanted. He said he had shown my comments to a
friend of his and he interpreted them the same way. From my point of
view that's how my comments were intended. In fact I said much the
same thing after the Wexford match, but because we won nobody paid
any heed to them.
I have also been criticised for singling out players and I have
already expressed my regret for any hurt I may have caused to any
Offaly player. But as a manager that is a calculated judgement that
you make. After the 1988 All-Ireland final I criticised Pat Fox and
I felt that the criticism was good for him. Three years later he was
the hurler of the year.
At the meeting on Monday night we discussed the behaviour of some
players and we decided that two of them would have to be spoken to
before training on Wednesday night. One of those players was Johnny
Pilkington. Then I open Tuesday morning's Irish Independent and
there was Johnny condemning me.
I was prepared to confront Johnny and I was fully prepared to
continue as Offaly manager, but around lunchtime I got a phone call
from Brendan Ward. I knew from his tone that it wasn't the Brendan
Ward I had spoken to on Monday night. He said the mood in Offaly
wasn't good. My response was that we discussed all this last night.
At the end of our conversation I realised that I couldn't defeat the
mood in Offaly and I gave him my resignation.
Things had come to a head but, to be honest, I hadn't been happy
in the week before the match. On the Tuesday night the other
selectors put it to me that we wouldn't bother with a pre-match
puck-around on Sunday morning. When we put it to the senior players
that's what they seemed to want. I had never put out a team in an
important match without a puck-around that morning, but I accepted
Then, at the Offaly supporters' club golf classic on Thursday, I
was saying goodbye to Tony Murphy, the hurling secretary, when he
said he'd see me at the team meeting that night. I had to bite my
tongue. I was manager of the team but I knew nothing of a meeting
I went along to Dooley's Hotel in Birr that evening at eight
o'clock and they were all there, players and selectors. I handled it
as best I could and put on a brave face. It wasn't the time for
fall-outs so close to a big match and for the good of the team I
made nothing of it.
I've depended on the loyalty of people around me in everything
I've taken on in life, but I wonder if I got it from all my fellow
selectors in Offaly? I didn't agree with certain aspects of the team
we picked for the Kilkenny match, but majority rules and once it was
picked I stood over it in public.
I remember the night below in Clonmel, when I resigned after we
had to borrow players for a challenge match against Tipperary.
Paudge agreed with me that night that I should resign and walk away
from behaviour like that. I didn't see eye-to-eye with Paudge and
Pat McLoughney about some things, but we agreed on a lot and I
always gave them the respect they deserved. It's amazing then that
they should step back and allow me to take all the flak this week. I
don't believe I got the loyalty I deserved from them.
I went into Offaly with my eyes open. Johnny said during the week
that everything was grand when Eamon Cregan was in charge but I know
the problems that Eamon encountered. I know there were evenings when
Eamon and his trainer, Derry O'Donovan, drove up from Limerick and
were sickened by the attitude they met. But I accepted the job
because I honestly believed there was an All-Ireland in this team
and it is every manager's dream to make that happen.
I went out of my way to persuade Johnny to keep playing with
Offaly, even though I had a few misgivings about him. We allowed him
to play rugby with Birr until they were beaten in the semi-final of
the Towns Cup and then took him back. He arrived three-quarters of
an hour late for his first session with the Offaly hurlers but we
tolerated it and tried to coax him along. On the day of the League
match against Dublin, Johnny's commitment was to my mind a very long
way from what it should have been. The people who shared a
dressing-room with him that day will know what I'm talking about,
but we stuck with him regardless.
I was as generous to him as I was to all the Offaly players. I
turned up at training half an hour early to give some players extra
coaching. Colm Cassidy, Mark Hand and John Ryan will know what I'm
talking about. Problems on and off the field were discussed. I hope
that's not all forgotten, no more than I'll forget the great help I
got from Tony Murphy during my time in Offaly.
There's been a lot of speculation in Tipperary about me coming
back as manager. When I took over first in 1986 I was lucky that in
Michael Lowry Tipperary had a chairman who agreed with my vision and
who stood by me while I tried to bring it to life. I was lucky with
Noel Morris and Michael Maguire too, the other chairmen I worked
with, because they were able to keep the structures in place. I
wonder if it is possible to have those structures now?
As for Offaly I wish them nothing but the best for the rest of
the summer. But I hope they realise that the problems that were
there before I arrived have not been solved by me leaving.