‘The fact there’s no manager in place speaks for itself. We just want a small bit of backing’

WATERFORD CONFIRMED THE appointment of Shane Ronayne as senior football boss last night, becoming the final football side to name a manager ahead of the 2021 campaign. 

But on the hurling front, 2020 Nicky Rackard semi-finalists Tyrone are still without a boss as the new season looms. 

Granted, the return of inter-county training has been put back to the start of February at the earliest. If the daily case numbers remain at the current levels, the GAA may decide to scrap the Allianz Football and Hurling Leagues, with the championship potentially taking place after a pre-season later in the year. 

But for the moment at least, the league is still going ahead. The majority of county players are working away individually in the hope of returning to collective training at the beginning of next month. 

Tyrone stalwart Damian Casey, who first broke onto the panel in 2012, has grown increasingly frustrated as January rolled around without any movement on a new manager.

Following their Rackard Cup semi-final loss to Donegal on 14 November, boss Mattie Lennon finished up after three years in charge. He has yet to be replaced and Casey believes Tyrone are the only county side without a manager in place.

Tyrone county board have this week blamed the pandemic for the delay in putting a new man in place. But, as far as Casey is aware, the process only started last week. 

“Up until Tuesday night last week they had a meeting and got the ball rolling after that,” he tells The42. ”But I don’t know the ins and outs of it. I sort of left it until Friday to do that [tweet].”

The tweet in question vented his frustration at the county board.

“Are @TyroneGAALive hurlers the only county team in the country who haven’t got a manager, for what was supposed to be one week away from collective training resuming??” he asked.

“Not for the first time, we’ve been let down by a county board who don’t give a f***!!”

Are @TyroneGAALive hurlers the only county team in the country who haven’t got a manager, for what was supposed to be one week away from collective training resuming?? Not for the first time, we’ve been let down by a county board who don’t give a fuck!!

— Damian Casey (@D_Casey_11) January 8, 2021

The Dungannon native’s remarks gained plenty of traction, bringing the issue to the national consciousness – on social media at least.

“Massive reaction,” he says. “It grew arms and legs like I never thought. I wouldn’t be massively active on social media, I’d be on it and take a nose to see what’s going on and all the rest. I have one of them Apple watches and my phone was just dinging flat out on Friday. It was mental. A whole lot of people seen it. 

“It was going through my head all week and I said I’d leave it until Friday because that will be a week out from when we were supposed to be back training [before the GAA put it back to February]. At this point in time, to my knowledge, there’s still nothing in place.

“I do think they’ve got the ball rolling from Tuesday last week but even at that…it’s better late than never but in my eyes it’s still very, very late to get the ball rolling.”

Casey in action for Tyrone during the 2019 season.

Source: Rory Cox/Tyrone GAA

Having no manager in place means no conditioning programmes have been supplied for players to work on. With the 2021 season set to be condensed and a quick run-in to competitive games likely when training can resume, it’s far from ideal.

“The county season for the lower tier competitions is always relatively short, but this year it’s even shorter again,” he explains. “The Nicky Rackard is finished up by the end of May, in past years you were talking the end of June.

“I know you can’t collectively train at the minute, but at the same time there can be programmes to do out for lads for gym and running so that when we eventually do hit the pitch that lads are in good physical condition.

“That they’re able to go straight into hurling and get all that tidied up. But that obviously isn’t the case yet. I know it’s only a month but at the same time a month is still a long time. The season has been cut short by a month so it gives us even less time to do what’s needed or what’s necessary.

“That was the reason for it. I’m there since 2012. At this stage I’m probably one of the senior players and you know the different things that went on. It’s not the only issue but preparation…if they’re in any way serious about the senior hurling team doing well you would have had a manager in place before now.”

There have been issues in the past with gear and expenses being paid in time to the county’s hurlers.

And while it took the county board 12 days to appoint Brian Dooher and Fergal Lohan as joint football managers following Mickey Harte’s departure, the hurling squad remain in limbo.

It’s hard not to draw comparison between the county’s hurlers and footballers, who operate in different worlds despite sharing a training base at Garvaghey. 

“The fact there’s no manager in place speaks for itself. I don’t like being compared to the footballers in one sense, but certainly within Tyrone them boys are the benchmark.

“I would never begrudge them boys because I know an awful lot of them, I was in school with an awful lot of them too and they’re all good lads. I get on well with them.

“So I’d never begrudge them lads what they get because they do put in a serious time and effort to it. But at the same time, we don’t want everything [they have]. We just want what we’re entitled to and a small bit of backing.”

Casey has been one of the most prolific forwards in the country in recent seasons, posting 6-169 in the championship since 2013. In 2019 he was named on the ’Champions 15′ team, a side selected of the best 45 players from outside hurling’s top two tiers.

A two-time Tyrone SHC winner with Dungannon Eoghan Ruadh, Casey was named on the Nicky Rackard Cup Champions 15 selection four years in-a-row between 2013 and 2016.

For a few years, he even commuted back and forth from Liverpool to line out with club and county.

Casey lifts the Nicky Rackard Cup in 2014.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

He has lifted four national titles with Tyrone – the Lory Meagher Cup (2012), Rackard Cup (2014) and Divisions 3B (2014) and 3A (2015) – during his career to date.

In recent seasons though, Tyrone have reached and been beaten in four successive Rackard Cup semi-finals. 

The trophies arrived during the early part of his career, when he feels the hurling squad were properly backed by the Tyrone county board. 

“In my eyes it’s no coincidence that we won the Nicky Rackard in 2014. We were promoted out of Division 3B in 2014, won the Rackard and in 2015 we won Division 3A.

“Now we didn’t get promoted because we lost out on a promotion/relegation game to Donegal, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that them couple of years is the most success Tyrone have had, certainly in recent times anyway.

“There was good backing from the county board – we didn’t get everything we wanted – but there was a strong backing and I felt they wanted us to do well.” 

Now, he’s not so sure.

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