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GAA managers and shiny tracksuits – what’s going on?

Fashion tip: never leave the house in one of these


Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.

Henry David Thoreau

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AUTHOR, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian and leading transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau would not have tried his hand at GAA management.

Whatever about the rest of his passions, you certainly need a new outfit to parade up and down the line – and that outfit requires bold type on the back spelling out just what it is you do: Banisteoir. Yeah boy!

I’d kind of accepted these ludicrous outfits as just one of those things until the fact struck me that it didn’t used to be this way.

A few weeks back I was sifting through the picture archives for a decent shot of the late Kevin Heffernan, to go with a column in the paper.

Hold on, I thought, while looking at the images … no dopey tracksuit, no stupid bib, no pair of football boots – like he could sprint out there and kick a point at any moment – none of that. Just a guy in a pair of slacks and a smart shirt and a Lyle & Scott jumper. I have to say, he looks the business.

And it wasn’t just the urbane Dubs manager who thought it beneath his station to dress head-to-toe in shiny gear from Champion Sports.

I can’t imagine there were many high-end men’s fashion shops in Waterville in the mid-70s, but Mick O’Dwyer also used to rock the Lyle & Scott look. It was probably part of his rivalry with Heffo – no Dublin boss is going to out-designer label me!

Winning style: Kevin Heffernan

You could argue that the cult of the manager really began with O’Dwyer and Heffernan. Kerry 1975-86 and Dublin 1974-83 are very much seen as their teams.

These men assembled and motivated sides that stayed at the top of their sport for a long period. Also, the teams had their personality: Kerry were clever, energetic and remained understated throughout their glory days. Brilliance was a routine matter. Dublin had steel, style and a streetwise strut.

Because O’Dwyer and Heffernan were so important to their teams, we now assume that every manager is as important to their team. The truth is, in the vast majority of cases, these bosses do not have the same influence over a group as the originals did.

Yet the cult of the bainisteoir is all-pervasive. How many times does the camera pan to the manager after a big score? How many column inches are taken up with managerial quotes on how they are taking nothing for granted/taking each game as it comes/taking the positives?

A most glamorous aspect to the sports reporters’ job is waiting outside dressing rooms to grab a few quotes from the main protagonist i.e. the manager.

Unfortunately managers are not always so attuned to newspaper deadlines as they are to “seeing where we’re at and taking stock”. On one occasion, nearly ten years ago now, the manager was taking far too long to emerge. I try not to barge in to dressing rooms like the hacks did in generations gone by, but the pressure was on this time.

I pushed the door open. Then, across a steam-filled room, my eyes met with those of a curious looking banisteoir. His expression said … ‘What the f*** are you doing here?’

Mine said: ‘What the f*** are you are you doing … drying yourself off after a shower?’

Now I agree that cleanliness is next to Godliness, but you should really only have a sporting shower after a game you actually taken part in.

Anything else is excessive. What next? A dressing room for 80,000 people at Croke Park, so we can all pretend we’ve played and need to get clean? While we’re at it, should everybody planning on going to games overlook their jeans and instead dress in a tracksuit?

That seems to be the manager’s charter: dress for athleticism.

Unfortuately, they mistake athleticism for proximity to athleticism. If you’re standing on a boggy pitch in mid-winter then fair enough, boots and a tracksuit are the sensible choice, but Croke Park in August? Seriously, you need to re-examine your sartorial policy. You’re a man in your forties in a branded tracksuit: it is not dignified, it is not appropriate.

Do yourself a favour, tell the county board that free training gear is only of use to fellas doing the actual training. And tell them you’re not going anywhere with the word banisteoir scrawled across your shoulders.

The GAA being the GAA, there is probably some penalty to be paid for not having your job title on your back while inside the wire. Tell them you’re not paying it. Trust me, you’ll feel better and you will look better – you will look like a grown man, not some child on their way to double PE.

It’s going to take somebody with authority, with gravitas, to strike the match and light the bonfire of the shiny tracksuits. I can think of nobody better than Mick O’Dwyer. He was in at the birth of the cult of the manager and he can steer the whole thing in a more dignified direction.

Tragically, he has long ago taken to donning the official uniform of management. Next time out, wouldn’t it be great if he looked into the branded gearbag and said, “feck this, I’m wearing my Lyle & Scott.”

He still has it in the locker.


Ronan Early

Ronan Early is Sports Editor and columnist with The Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @RonanEarly

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