IT was impossible to escape the sense of déjà vu.
When the Kildare public first set eyes on Kieran McGeeney, he was watching Moorefield beat Sarsfields in a county final. On Sunday Jason Ryan stepped out in St Conleth’s Park as Kildare manager for the first time and the sight was just the same.
Whether that’s a good omen for Ryan – who will inherit a side deeply enriched by McGeeney’s reign – only time will tell but there will be no escaping the comparisons with McGeeney. Ryan spent this season as a coach and selector alongside the Armagh man yet now he must soldier on in his absence, having watched his former colleague sacked because of dissatisfaction among clubs.
“When you’re county manager there’s certain occasions that you should be at and the reason I’m here is because I should be here,” said Ryan after watching Moorefield collect another Kildare senior crown at the expense of their Newbridge rivals.
“It’s one game, there’s more than two clubs in Kildare. Today is one to see but today’s an opportunity for me to meet various people that I wouldn’t have had a responsibility to meet as much last year and understand more the workings of the GAA in Kildare,” said Ryan although he wasn’t willing to name those who had impressed. For the moment he is keeping his cards fairly close to his chest as he begins the hard work of scouting players and sourcing personnel for his management team.
“Lots of guys impressed me there today (in the county final) but we’ll be making phone calls and running trials. We’re hoping to have trial games at the end of this month. We’re playing against Offaly and Meath in friendly games. We’ll be contacting every club in the county and clubs will be asked to suggest players that they feel are appropriate or deserve an opportunity to play,” said Ryan of his plans for the immediate future.
The Kildare panel of 2013 will not be put through the trialling process so Ryan will spend October hunting for new additions.
“If you were on the panel this year then you were on the panel for a reason but you will have to justify your place. But you’re not going to go through a process of trialling guys that have five or six years of strength and conditioning and development behind them and trial them with a fella who doesn’t have any of that behind him. It’s not fair.”
Trial games may not be the ideal way to uncover players ripe for inter-county football but it’s probably the best that Ryan can do in a short space of time. Having worked at the coalface of top-level football since 2008, he is clear about the essential requirements for any player.
“The way the game has gone now – commitment is number one and after commitment it’s talent and athletic ability,” he says.
Loyalty was always one of McGeeney’s core principles so while the Armagh man undoubtedly felt betrayed by the county board, Ryan has taken solace in the fact that McGeeney gave him his blessing.
“We worked very closely with each other last year,” said Ryan, who spoke to McGeeney before taking the Kildare job. “I feel it’s very important for us to be communicating with each other and for each of us to understand where we were at really. When you work very, very closely with someone for whatever period of time, you build up a relationship. The friendship that developed during the course of the year is something that I want to continue.
“Kildare GAA is going to continue on regardless of who’s here. At the end of my time, Kildare GAA will go on. Somebody else will come in and they’ll slip right into my shoes. The show just goes on regardless of what controversy might happen.”
Considering the nature of McGeeney’s departure, it is perhaps unsurprising that his successor takes the philosophical view. With his backroom team still to be assembled – “I maybe have 15 people to find” – and no definite word on the future of John Doyle, Ryan knows that time is of the essence.
“The GAA is an amateur sport. We have a scenario whereby managers come in and unless your name is Billy Morgan or Sean Boylan or Mickey Harte, your general term is 3, 4, 5, 6 years. And so when you’re there you make the most out of it because you know the end is going to come at some stage.”
Having witnessed first hand the end of McGeeney’s reign, Ryan knows management is not a long-term game for outsiders.