Club managers up and down the country are a vital component of the overall success of the GAA as an organisation. From senior to intermediate to junior and right down to under 8s and under 10s this group of very often unsung heroes deserve special mention, and on on this 125th anniversary of the GAA’s foundation Joe Fallon talks to one, Brendan Clarke, Athlone manager.
Ferbane-native Brendan Clarke knows more than most about what it takes to be manager of a club side. This is his third stint as manager of Athlone, having previously led the town side to championship success in 1988 and 1998. He was also at the helm when his home side Ferbane won the Offaly championship in 1978. In recent years he has also manager of Castledaly and Padraig Pearses. He was also part of the Offaly management team from 1983-85.
As a player he represented Offaly at minor and under 21 level, winning a Leinster minor medal in 1963. He also collected three senior county medals with Ferbane.
JF. Many people would say one would have to be mad to take on the job of club manager? What motivates you?
BC. First and foremost you have to like it. I enjoy the sense of achievement at seeing players improving. It’s always nice to win silverware but seeing improvement is just as important.
JF. Do you think club managers should be paid?
BC. No I don’t. All of their expenses should be looked after but nothing more. Money is the wrong motivation.
JF. Should players be paid?
BC.I wouldn’t be in favour of pay for play but the Government grant is ok. If the government cut this payment this year on account of the economic situation I don’t think the GAA should pick up the tab.
JF. Has managing a club team changed over the past 20 years or so?
BC. A lot of the emphasis nowadays is on fitness rather than skill with the result that while fitness levels are a lot higher today, skill levels were higher 20 years ago. That is something that needs to addressed in training.
JF. In your experience does the county se- up infringe on preparing a club side for championship.?
BC. Yes it often does. Pressure is often put on players not to play league or challenge games with their club in case of injury. Yet a player is just as likely to get injured in training. This doesn’t seem to be as big of a problem in many of the stronger counties where players are let play all of their league matches but is an issue in so called ‘weaker’ counties. The charter drawn up by Croke Park for all county managers is a good idea and needs to be adhered to.
JF. How important a role does the GAA play in Irish society and does this differ between urban and rural areas?
BC. The GAA of course plays a massive role in Irish society. In rural areas the GAA is more about identity-pride in the parish. This sense is not as strong in urban areas where you might have two or three clubs in the one town and a wider range of sports on offer. GAA tends to be the main sport in rural areas and so can be a greater unifying factor in rural communities.
JF. What advice would you offer the GAA as it sets out on the next 125 years?
BC. Croke Park does a lot of talk about clubs but action speaks louder than words. More needs to be done to address the needs of clubs. I’m not a lover of the qualifier system and think that people in general are losing interest in it. I believe that the backdoor system favours the stronger teams. Tyrone’s All-Ireland win last year proves this.
I think there needs to be a complete change. Perhaps play the provincial championships early in the year and then during the Summer play a knockout All-Ireland championship.
JF. Finally what are you own hopes for 2009?
BC. To win the Flanagan Cup of course. It won’t be easy but nothing worth winning ever is. The Westmeath club championship is wide open with five or six clubs that are in with a shout of winning. We would like to think we are in with a chance but only time will tell.