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The figures that show why James Horan is this century’s best GAA football manager

James Horan
James Horan has an enviable win percentage

THE All-Ireland football final pits the two best teams of 2013 against each other, but it’s also fascinating to note that it puts the two managers with the best records in modern championship football in opposition.

The Irish Post has analysed the results of every inter-county manager since the start of the 2001 season – when the qualifiers were introduced – and calculated the percentage of championship games that each has won.

Mayo’s James Horan tops our table of the best managers over the past 13 seasons, with an enviable 87 per cent. However, the list includes only managers that have overseen 10 championship games or more.

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If it were to list more inexperienced bosses, then Dublin’s Jim Gavin would, of course, be number one. He is the only man out of more than 140 who have donned the bainisteoir’s bib since ’01 who has yet to taste championship defeat.

But Gavin and Horan are part of a tiny elite. One thing that the statistics underline is that, by and large, only the foolish would take on a football manager’s job outside Dublin or Kerry and expect to succeed.

More than half of all inter-county managers lose more championship games than they win, and an even greater majority last only one or two seasons in any given job. Only one in seven, or 20 in total, can point to a win ratio of 60 per cent or more.

Speaking about the Kieran McGeeney controversy last week, Waterford manager Niall Carew made the point that only one team at a time can win silverware. But that doesn’t stop supporters and county boards from expecting trophies.

Because of that, people such as Dublin boss Paul Caffrey are remembered as failures. But Caffrey has the sixth best record of any manager in terms of winning games.

In a US sport he would be lauded as a great coach, but in Gaelic football, where careers stand or fall on one-off knockout games, knife-edge results such as his team’s one- and two-point defeats in the All-Ireland semi-finals of 2006 and 2007 count for more than consistency.

Eamon O'Brien
Should Meath have done more to hang onto Eamon O’Brien?

Conor Counihan is another oft-derided boss who makes the top 10, while the table begs the question of why Meath didn’t do more to hang on to Eamonn O’Brien, who won eight of his 11 games in charge of the Royals.

Of course, it would be wrong to judge managers in different counties by the same criteria.

A Kerry manager is bound to have a higher winning percentage than counties outside of the elite, and thus a fairer method might be to compare managers to their predecessors.

If we look at it that way, Horan again stands out, with a vastly superior record to the next-best Mayo manager, John O’Mahony, whose 63 per cent record also includes four seasons in charge of Galway.

Such a comparison also underscores the startling turnaround Jim McGuinness has effected in Donegal’s fortunes, his 83 per cent record dwarfing the next-best Donegal manager, Brian McEniff, who won 57 per cent of games between 2003 and 2005.

Despite the Seanie Johnston controversy and their biggest defeat to Dublin in 116 years, the figures might give food for thought to those Kildare clubs who voted Kieran McGeeney out, as his 66 per cent record is a remarkable improvement on predecessors John Crofton (33 per cent) and Padraig Nolan (40 per cent).

The analysis also gives rise to more surprising questions, such as whether Justin McNulty really did such a bad job in Laois, where he has won six out of every 10 games.

Few would consider him worthy of comparison with Mick O’Dwyer, but the great Kerry man has won only 53 per cent of his games since 2001.

Even if you take out his time in charge of weaker counties Wicklow and Clare, O’Dwyer won a solid-rather-than-spectacular 62 per cent of games from 2001 to 2006, when he was in charge of strong Kildare and Laois teams.

Some managers that are often the butt of jokes have performed reasonably. Tommy Carr trumps O’Dwyer with a 55 per cent record. Seamus McEnaney is just behind Micko, on 52 per cent.

Then again, O’Dwyer outdid both in one vital respect: he brought silverware to Laois in 2003 and was a regular on Leinster final day with the O’Moore’s.

And, as Gavin and Horan will be reminded before the month is out, in the unforgiving world of Gaelic football management, silverware is all that counts.

Most successful managers, 2001-13
(Minimum 10 Championship games)


[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
1,James Horan,Mayo,15,87%
2=,Jack O’Connor,Kerry,43,83%
2=,Jim McGuinness,Donegal,18,83%
4=,Pat Gilroy,Dublin,22,82%
4=,Pat O’Shea,Kerry,12,82%[/table]
Paul Caffrey
Paul Caffrey
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
6,Paul Caffrey,Dublin,20,79% 
7=,Mickey Harte,Tyrone,63,74% 
7=,Conor Counihan,Cork,33,74% 
9,Eamonn O’Brien,Meath,11,73% 
10=,Paidi O Se,Kerry/W’meath/Clare,29,69%[/table]

Kieran McGeeney
Kieran McGeeney
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
10=,Joe Kernan,Armagh/Galway,39,69% 
12=,Tommy Lyons,Dublin,16,67% 
12=,Art McCrory/Eugene McKenna,Tyrone,10,67% 
14,Kieran McGeeney,Kildare,36,66% 
15,Billy Morgan,Cork,20,65%[/table]

Colm Coyle
Colm Coyle
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
16,John O’Mahony,Galway/Mayo,32,63%
17,James McCartan,Down,21,62%
18=,Justin McNulty,Laois,15,60%
18=,Colm Coyle,Meath,10,60%
18=,Terry Hyland,Cavan,10,60%
Eamonn Coleman
Eamonn Coleman
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
21,Sean Boylan,Meath,23,59%
22=,Dominic Corrigan,Fermanagh/Sligo,19,58%
22=,Fergal O’Donnell,Roscommon,13,58%
24=,Eamonn Coleman,Derry/Cavan,15,57%
24=,Brian McEniff,Donegal,14,57%
Mick O'Dwyer
Mick O’Dwyer
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
26,Tommy Carr,Dublin/Roscommon/Cavan,25,55% 
27,Mick O’Dwyer,Kildare/Laois/Wicklow/Clare,48,53% 
28,Mickey Moran,Donegal/Derry/Mayo/Leitrim,34,53% 
29=,Seamus McEnaney,Meath,33,52% 
29=,Peter Ford,Sligo/Galway,26,52%[/table]
Jason Ryan
Jason Ryan
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
29=,Jason Ryan,Wexford,23,52%
32=,Charlie Mulgrew,Fermanagh,17,50%
32=,Brian McIver,Donegal/Derry,16,50%
32=,Malachy O’Rourke,Fermanagh/Monaghan,15,50%
32=,Paddy Crozier,Derry,12,50%[/table]
Larry Tompkins
Larry Tompkins
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
32=,Larry Tompkins,Cork,12,50%
37,Liam Bradley,Antrim,14,46%
38=,John Maughan,Fermanagh/Mayo/Roscommon,21,45%
38=,Ross Carr,Down,12,45%
38=,Maurice Horan,Limerick,11,45%[/table]
Paddy O'Rourke
Paddy O’Rourke
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
41,Tomas O Flatharta,Westmeath/Galway,18,44%
42,Liam Kearns,Limerick/Laois,23,43%
43,Paddy O’Rourke,Down/Armagh,26,42%
44=,Padraig Nolan,Offaly/Kildare,16,40%
44=,Pat Roe,Carlow/Wexford/Offaly,16,40%[/table]
Glenn Ryan
Glenn Ryan
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
44=,Peter Fitzpatrick,Louth,10,40%
47,Mickey Ned O’Sullivan,Limerick,16,38%
48,Val Andrews,Cavan/Louth,13,38%
49=,Luke Dempsey,Westmeath/Carlow/Longford,39,35%
49=,Glenn Ryan,Longford,17,35%[/table]
Kevin Walsh
Kevin Walsh
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
51=,Kevin Walsh,Sligo,16,33%
51=,Paul Coggins,London,10,33%
51=,Dennis Connerton,Longford,10,33%
54=,Dessie Dolan,Leitrim,10,30%
54=,Pat Flanagan,Westmeath,10,30%[/table]
Seamus McEnaney
Seamus McEnaney
[table]Rank, Manager, County, Games,Win %
55,Eamonn McEnaney,Louth/Monaghan,18,29%
56,John Evans,Tipperary/Roscommon,12,17%
57,Noel Dunning,London,10,0%[/table]



Jim Gavin
Jim Gavin

Managers in charge for fewer than 10 championship games between 2001 and 2013:

100%: Jim Gavin (Dublin)

80%: Eamonn Fitzmaurice (Kerry)

75%: Tommy Breheny (Sligo), John Tobin (Roscommon)

63%: Liam Sammon (Galway)

56%: Colm Browne (Laois)

50%: Eamonn Barry (Meath), Damian Cassidy (Derry), Paddy Clarke (Louth), JJ Doherty (Donegal), Paul Grimley (Armagh), Pat Holmes (Mayo), Tommy Jordan (Sligo), Kevin Kilmurray (Offaly), Brian McAlinden-Brian Canavan (Armagh), Peter McDonnell (Armagh), Alan Mulholland (Galway), Aidan O’Brien (Wexford), Mick O’Dowd (Meath), Paul O’Kelly (Offaly), Aidan O’Rourke (Louth)

43%: Paddy Carr (Louth), Peter Creedon (Tipperary), Marty McElkennon (Cavan)

38%: Paul Bealin (Wexford, Carlow), George Dugdale-Barney Breen (Leitrim)

33%: John Brennan (Derry), Donie Buckley-Michael Brennan (Clare), Moses Coffey (Wicklow) Mickser Condon (Carlow), Tom Cribben (Offaly), John Crofton (Kildare), Val Daly (Roscommon), Gerry Fahey (Offaly), Liam Hayes (Carlow), John Kennedy (Clare), Michael McCormack (Longford), Tom McGlinchey (Tipperary), Harry Murphy (Wicklow), Des Newton (Roscommon)

25%: Frank Doherty (Clare), Declan Rowley (Leitrim)

22%: John Owens (Tipperary, Waterford)

20%: Pat Begley (Clare), Peter Canavan (Fermanagh), Niall Carew (Waterford), Sean Dempsey (Laois), Donal Keogan (Cavan), Mattie Kerrigan (Cavan), PJ O’Hare (Antrim), John O’Leary (Wicklow), Brian White (Antrim)

14%: Michael McDermott (Clare)

11%: John Kiely (Waterford)

0%: Tom Coffey (Offaly), Mickey Culbert (Antrim), Frank Dawson (Antrim), Greg Fives (Waterford), Ger Halligan (Wexford), Billy Harty (Waterford), Jody Gormley (Antrim), James Kearins (Sligo), John Kearns (Carlow), Hugh Kenny (Wicklow), Chris Lloyd (London), Seamus McCarthy (Tipperary), Emmet McDonnell (Offaly), Pete McGrath (Down), John McParland (London), John O’Neill (Fermanagh), Anthony Rainbow (Carlow), Joe Reynolds (Leitrim), Michael Ryan (Roscommon), Andy Shorthall (Tipperary), Denis Walsh (Waterford)

  • Draws are included in each manager’s games tally, but were excluded when calculating win percentages.

Eamonn O Molloy

Eamonn O'Molloy is Gaelic Football columnist withThe Irish Post. Follow him on Twitter @EamonnOMolloy

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2 comments on “The figures that show why James Horan is this century’s best GAA football manager”

  1. Shane

    Nice piece, but a bit sensationalist no?
    You're hardly comparing like with like, so stating that Horan is the century's best football manager flat out is a bit much?
    Could McGeeney, Jason Ryan, Eamon Coleman, McNulty etc have gotten the same results with a top team? Possibly.
    Surely a better measure would be something like the % wins by a manager over a team above them in the rankings?

  2. Eamonn O'Molloy

    Hi Shane, yeah good points. We toyed with the idea of weighting the figures like you suggest, but the problem is that it's always going to be subjective when you rank the 32 teams - the bias of whoever's ranking them will affect results and if you use league positioning you run into problems like teams such as Donegal that don't take the league as seriously as others.


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