It came as a bit of a bolt from the blue, even for my family and close friends.
t was hardly a state secret that my wife Patricia was not greatly enthused by the prospect of me managing Meath and would like a quieter life away from all the publicity that will go with it.
When she was willing to go along with it, the decision became a lot easier. Patricia is the rock and the source of common sense in our family, while I go on solo runs.
The final details had to be ironed out last Monday morning and I was very clear in my thinking that the management committee of Meath County Board should be first to know, after the other candidates who had been interviewed were informed.
These are the courtesies of doing things right. After that the board issued a statement and as word spread, the texts started arriving thick and fast.
Having friends with a sense of humour is important. One informed me that he knew an eminent psychiatrist while another wondered about visiting hours, as I was obviously very unwell.
The stream of good wishes all week had me completely taken aback. I realise how much Meath people want to get some form of success back and I dearly hope that expectations can be matched by performances on the field. Management is a results business.
Meath supporters of my era judged us on beating Dublin and winning leagues and championships. It should be no different now. People might say that you should never cut a stick to beat yourself with, but anything less than being competitive with Dublin can only be described as failure.
The Dubs have closed the door on Meath — and everyone else — for a long time in Leinster so there is a need to make a mark there. Yet the changed competition format next year in a way makes the provincial championships largely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things. The four groups of four, which are drawn up after the provincial championships are over, is where the real action will be.
Many might wonder why I would take on managing Meath at my stage of life. Football has always been my passion in a sporting sense.
I love nearly all sports, especially hurling, horse racing, rugby, soccer, Australian rules and cricket, while family holidays in the United States always took in basketball, American football or baseball.
You can learn from all sport. Gaelic football is a brilliant game, despite all its shortcomings.
All I ever wanted to do growing up was play football and I was fortunate that I played with a great club in Skryne and then for Meath.
Neither side had any success in my early years. The first five senior finals I played in for Skryne were losing ones, although fortunately a couple of wins came later in my career.
The same pattern followed with Meath. I started in 1975 and our first Leinster win was in 1986, so the apprenticeship at club and county level was long and had many disappointments.
Perhaps it taught persistence and resilience, two qualities which are certainly needed now. So a career which had a few big wins can look distinguished, while hiding many days of acute and bitter disappointment.
In many ways I have very old-fashioned values. Loyalty is one of them. My father and mother moved to Meath from Leitrim with a family of 12 in 1966.
I was the second youngest. My oldest brother Fergus, who has passed on, played senior for Leitrim for many years, but Meath was home and gave great opportunities in education, employment and sport. I place value on those things.
It may not be the American dream of the poor boy making millions, but I am certainly proud of wearing my county jersey for 20 years, of being principal of St Patrick’s Classical School in Navan and seeing many of my family continuing to live in this county and making a sizeable contribution to the sporting, cultural, social and economic life of Meath.
So giving something back is part of what we were taught, and have never forgotten.
Being involved in management is hardly new, as I have been managing some team either at school or club or both for 40 years.
We had some great days with St Pat’s and I was involved as a selector with Ray Mooney when Skryne ended years of despair and won a championship in 1992 and again in ’93.
Then there was the Simonstown breakthrough in 2016 and ’17, winning our first senior championship.
So I have been a two-club man, playing for one and managing the other where I live now. Winning a championship as manager with my own son Shane playing was quite special.
Now I face a big job with Meath. Every manager for the last 20 years has put every ounce of their fibre into it and it has not worked out.
All have worked with honesty and only wanted Meath to succeed. It is no different to horses. Management of humans and animals can make a man look like a fool.
In some regards I have advantages from the experience of management in school. The important thing is the group dynamic and getting people who know more than me (not hard) and letting them get on with their job.
Maybe even more than that. Actively encouraging them. I try to surround myself with people who are bright, positive and good-humoured.
People who are willing to try things and if they don’t work, know that they can go at it again in a different way. All in a spirit of trust and goodwill. (Am I beginning to sound like an American management guru?)
I am glad to have Barry Callaghan and Stephen Bray coming on this journey with me as selectors and equal partners.
Apart from being an All-Ireland winner, Barry has spent many years coaching at various levels. He knows most of the players in Meath and is a student of all modern systems of play.
Stephen was the last Meath All Star and played for his club right up to last year.
He was the best club and county forward for over a decade and has a status and reputation among Meath people for hard work, honesty and commitment — the qualities required by all great players.
It is a great starting point to have men of such calibre who will help to create a positive environment.
Another important aspect of good management is to not be afraid to look for help.
That has been widely offered already and will be taken up. From previous players, managers, both inside and outside the county, even business consultants.
There is something to be learned from them all — every day is a school day.
Of course I can also turn to Seán Boylan. He will have open access to the team as adviser, counsellor, motivator or whatever else he wants to be.
He makes people feel good about themselves and young people like him. That is another ingredient of good management. If you get on well with people it makes things a lot easier.
It won’t all be sweetness and light. County football is ruthless, players are dropped, substituted or don’t get a game at all.
They feel hurt, embarrassed, angry and a lot of other things so there will be casualties along the way. Their family and friends are affected. Good communication can help, but sometimes there is no nice way.
If we need to look for inspiration in Meath it can come from our ladies’ team. Their win last year and hopefully again today gave a huge lift to the county.
They became the new heroes and have helped to inspire countless young boys and girls to get involved in football. Their legacy will run for years. We must hope to do the same.
On this journey I hope we create a healthy sporting atmosphere, one where players find a proper balance between family, sport, leisure, education and work.
It can’t be every night of the week or it becomes more like work than leisure. Players should be doing something almost every day, but it does not have to mean coming together to do it.
If players cannot be trusted with some of their own training then we are going nowhere and regular testing will indicate that clearly anyway.
Even after 40 years, being involved continues to teach me a lot. Young people are not as resilient generally as previous generations.
They are minded more. There is nothing wrong with that, except decision-making can be an issue. Their phones are their reality.
Social media can be a disease and while there are a lot of toxic screwballs around, there is far too much made of them.
Should anyone care about what the unknown looneys are spouting?
Ultimately we will need young men who take individual responsibility, who believe in team over self and will try to add rather than look for something out of it. If they can play football, it will be a bonus.
Plenty of issues will arise and there are players and other counties’ supporters who might want to give me an earful on the basis of comments made in my many years writing for the Sunday Independent, or working on The Sunday Game.
Funny enough, it has never arisen in the most heated of club matches as manager of Simonstown.
In terms of players, we will be undertaking a deep trawl of Meath football, through senior, intermediate and junior clubs.
Surely there are a few raw diamonds out there. Teams need a good goalkeeper, a free-taker, a redhead and at least one farmer to put with the 30-year-old students.
They should not be hard to find in a county with such history and tradition. Hopefully, too, there will be more than the odd laugh on the journey.
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