It's not Banty v Boylan, it's Banty v Barney
The Meath County Board failed to remove Seamus McEnaney last night. Are their heads now on the chopping block?
By David Sheehan
So it’s all over, for another few months at least. The curtain has come down on the now almost annual comedy show that surrounds the Meath County Board, and their handling of the position of senior football manager.
Séamus McEnaney emerged from last night’s meeting of the club delegates with his job safe, following a 43-31 vote in favour of the motion to remove him. The Monaghan man only required 25 votes to survive, so he essentially had six to spare. It brings to an end a tumultuous couple of weeks in the Royal County, something which has become all too common in recent years, with many people laying the blame squarely at the door of the board.
As most will be aware by now, the Meath County Board proposed a motion to remove McEnaney and replace him with Seán Boylan in the wake of Meath’s relegation to Division 3 of the Allianz National League. The board had asked McEnaney to step down, but Banty, adamant that he had the backing of the players, refused to walk.
That was a week ago, and what has followed in the intervening seven days has been speculation and rumour with regard to every facet of the whole messy situation. Did McEnaney have the support of the clubs? Would they rail against the County Board as they had done at the back end of 2010 when Eamonn O’Brien found himself removed amid the crossfire between clubs and the county board? And what of the players - did McEnaney really have their support, as he claimed? Following their meeting on Monday, why did they not release a statement backing their manager?
A week ago, it looked like Banty was a dead man walking. It seemed that the extremely poor league campaign coupled with the perception that Meath don’t like ‘outsiders’ would see the former Monaghan manager’s tenure ended abruptly. With the passing days though, there appeared to be a gradual shift in the sands. Dissatisfaction with the County Board raised its head - again, with many clubs feeling that the manager was being made a scapegoat – again.
McEnaney attended several club championship matches in Meath over the weekend, as well as Wicklow’s Division 4 final with Clare, to run the rule over his adopted county’s first round opponents. It would have been easy to go to ground given the circumstances, but the dignity with which McEnaney handled the situation, by both stepping out in public and not making any rash comments to the media, won him a lot of respect. Trevor Giles also wrote a piece in The Irish Examiner arguing that his colleague (Giles is currently physio with the Meath senior squad) be retained and that the clubs concentrate on raising their coaching standards.
The County Board under chairman Barney Allen, unfortunately, didn’t exhibit much class. Once again, the dirty linen has been washed in public by a board who seem totally unaware of how to handle their business in the modern era, and to whom the phrase ‘public relations’ means nothing. In the Meath Chronicle this week, Allen wrote a letter to the editor complaining that he had been victimised in an article published the previous week in the wake of Seán Boylan’s resignation from his position as director of football. Allen complained that he was not contacted to give his side of the story. The paper in question claimed they had tried to contact Allen but to no avail.
Turn to the sports section of said paper, where Allen was asked to explain how the voting process of last night’s meeting would work. The reply was that it was none of the paper’s business. It’s an astonishing way to behave as the figurehead of the biggest sporting organisation in Meath. What the chairman clearly failed to grasp, and this has been a trait of his tenure from the outset, is that that the local press is the conduit to the GAA public in Meath and their perception of him is coloured – rightly or wrongly - by what they read in the local press. The persona presented to the media is one of belligerence and stubbornness, and this has only served to undermine Allen’s position, which is unfortunate given the 35 years of service he has given to Meath GAA.
Pairc Tailteann, the scene of last night's drama
Many felt that last night’s vote represented a Waterloo moment for either Allen or McEnaney. Defeat for McEnaney would certainly have spelt the end of his tenure, and while the chairman’s job was not put to a vote last night, the feeling was that defeat for his motion would make his position as chairman untenable. What has transpired is a kind of uneasy status-quo. Banty has survived, but 43 clubs voted to remove him, something Allen will no doubt suggest vindicates his decision to put the matter to a vote.
However, the fact is, such is the fractious nature of politics in Meath GAA, that you could take a vote at any given time on any of the recent incumbents and there could be a large number in favour of removing them. A week later those figures could change dramatically. Everything in the county seems to be knee-jerk, even though the problems run much deeper than who is manager of the senior footballers.
The upshot is that Séamus McEnaney will lead Meath into this year’s Championship, but it is almost impossible to see him lasting beyond it. Barring an unlikely Leinster Championship win or a good run through the qualifiers with a major scalp or two along the way, the clubs will probably have him removed later this year. Quite who would want to replace him is anyone’s guess, given the shoddy treatment meted out to McEnaney, and O’Brien and Eamonn Barry before him.
The real question for Meath delegates is whether they can adequately and swiftly replace a stagnant County Board that seems reluctant to implement a long-term plan for the county, or indeed engage with their public in any meaningful or helpful way. And one who have now had their noses badly bloodied in two separate battles of wills over managers – they wanted to keep O’Brien, the clubs voted him out. They wanted McEnaney out, the clubs voted to keep him.
Their Waterloo may be imminent.