Michael Duignan in action for Offaly
The last few days have been dominated by the war of words between Offaly legend Michael Duignan and Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald. The bones of the dispute centred on Duignan criticism of the so-called sweeper systems used by Davy and Waterford manager Derek McGrath in their All-Ireland quarter-final clash at the weekend.
Davy had the final say on Monday night's Off The Ball programme on Newstalk radio, ultimately challenging Michael Duignan to take the Offaly job and put his words into action. He's not always, but Davy's right here - it's time for Duignan to get off the fence and play ball. It's easy to sit behind the shiny glass of the RTÉ studio throw stones.
While I agree with much of what Duignan said, namely that hurling loses part of its lustre with the sweeper system in place, you can't help but see Davy's point. If the likes of Wexford, Limerick or Offaly go out against the likes of Galway or Tipperary and play open hurling, they'll be run off the pitch.
Clare won an All-Ireland using a sweeper, perhaps not in the final itself, but on the way to it in 2013, and Donegal did something similar in football.
So, he question people like Duignan need to ask themselves is - do you want to see 'lovely' hurling or do you want teams competing with one another? I for one don't want to see beatings like those dished out to our own hurlers this year becoming commonplace in league and championship - all in the name of protecting traditionalist hurling.
As one commentator said over the weekend, if the likes of a Davy Fitz rolled into Offaly and played even two sweepers and won an All-Ireland, not one of us would be complaining. It's true. We'd be hanging off the back of an open-sided trailer rolling into Birr, singing his name as part of the Offaly Rover. On that point, Davy is right to take Duignan to task.
It's easy for him or any of us in the media to give our opinions, tell managers where they're going wrong, why their systems aren't working, why we don't like looking at them, but at the end of the day, that's all just hot air. Standing on the sideline or sitting in the stands with air traffic controller earphones on, as Davy did at the weekend, is an entirely different proposition.
Duignan wrote in Monday's Irish Daily Mail about the fiasco, and took Davy to task for saying he hadn't managed in hurling. What Davy actually said was Duignan had not managed at a "high level," and considering Duignan's sole intercounty managerial foray was with Meath, Davy is right again.
Duignan also said he's been asked to manage Offaly over the years, but in fairness, personal circumstances, including the untimely death of his wife, halted any chances. Added to that is the fact that Offaly is more than a simple managerial job - the new manager will also have to balance the county board issues.
He's also coached kids in the county for years and he's a passionate Offaly hurling man. He's outspoken enough to ruffle a few feathers, which is something we need nearly as much as structure. He has the clout to make players buy into his philosophy, knowledge of the county, and the power to bring in fellow legends alongside him - all ingredients to give the job a good go.
Davy Fitz said it himself on Monday night's Off The Ball, "the board in Offaly could do worse than put himself [Duignan] and Daithi Regan in there." Regan has said on previous occasions that he's put his name forward for the job before, and Duignan has always said he'd have felt he had something worthwhile to offer. So we know these guys have the hunger for Offaly hurling, now all we need is the will on all sides to get them in there.
With no offence to our most recent appointments, it's fair to say they were bottom-feeder choices. The likes of Eamonn Kelly, Ollie Baker and Kevin Ryan - they didn't arrive with any great managerial pedigree. In saying that, neither would Michael Duignan or Daithi Regan, but we have to take risks because we're not going to attract the likes of an Anthony Daly or Davy Fitzgerald.
Now, I'm sitting here thinking if I was Michael Duignan, what would I do? I wouldn't leave the job with RTÉ unless I was heading into a team like Galway in the morning. Then again, I know very little about hurling. However, it does stand up - the point that it's not really in Duignan's interest to leave the Sunday Game gig behind and replace it with the hassle the Offaly job will provide.
And yet you have to say, given Duignan's attitude and passion for the game in the county, and his track record with the likes of the Faithful Fields project, he should step up and put his name forward for the job. Not to shut Davy Fitz up or rise to any sort of challenge, but for the betterment of Offaly hurling.
He'd get the players behind him, he knows the lads in the county board, he has the respect of colleagues and contemporaries, and the fans would certainly buy into it. Offaly hurling is not a three or even five year project - it's a mountain and Duignan knows that. Perhaps that's the reason he's still shouting from the RTÉ studio and not the dugout.
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