Few managers can boast the GAA passport of Micheal McDermott. His career has taken him from the stunning Clare coastline to the rural Gaeltacht in Meath, but one thing has always been a constant; success.
2008 was McDermott’s breakthrough year onto the national stage. The previous fifteen years had been coaching at different levels and learning from the likes of John O’Keefe, while selector with the Clare footballers. After a number of successes elsewhere, he guided Kilmurry-Ibrickane to senior county glory, before a winning run that led them to the All-Ireland Club Final on the greatest stage of all.
“Reaching the Munster Final that year gave the lads a huge appetite, they were very ambitious. They really believed that they were going to beat Portlaoise in the All Ireland semi-final in 2010 and they played with a great swagger. For a small West Clare parish they really delivered and we won by nine points, reaching the All-Ireland final”
With their eyes fixed on a St. Patrick’s day showdown, his Kilmurry contingent began to prepare, but McDermott could sense something was off.
“Our standards never reached the levels of intensity that we were used to before that final and it showed in our performance”
After a brave fight in Croke Park, St. Gauls of Antrim ran out eventual winners. However, McDermott had helped bring the tight-knit community all the way to the top of club football. The journey might have been over, but that season will live long in the memory of those involved.
“It was such a wonderful journey with many fond memories. We played Tír Chonaill Gaels in the All-Ireland quarter-final over in London and the whole parish must have travelled over for the weekend. It was some craic”
The craic was wild, but on the pitch McDermott demanded the utmost from every man. The group had a goal and to achieve it was paramount that they committed whole-heartedly. Those values have accompanied him no matter where his managerial journey has taken him.
“The two most important things I look for in a team are belief and hard work and I’ve always believed that any team who is willing to work and train hard can win. I try to make every session different, I want the lads to come away from the pitch having given their best physically, but having enjoyed it too. To be successful you need to get the best performance from every cog in the wheel. Players must ask themselves how far are they willing to go”.
While balancing that incredible run with Kilmurry, the passionate manager had also taken the reigns of the Clare senior footballers. For the three years he was in charge, the Banner County banged on the door of promotion to Division 3, but each time came up short by the finest of margins. McDermott managed to navigate Clare to their first Munster final in 15 years, only to be beaten by a formidable Cork side. His tenure helped to drive on the standards of Clare football, who have since went onto reach Division 2 under Colm Collins. Even though it has only been a few years since he departed, the inter-county scene has changed dramatically.
“Things have changed hugely. When I took over in 2010, it was the first time the lads had concentrated on a dedicated S&C programme, which is now a minimum in most clubs. There’s always been very little between the likes of Tipperary, Limerick and Clare, but to beat Cork or especially Kerry, it would take a 10/10 performance”.
With that experience with Clare in the lower divisions, McDermott still maintains the belief that everything comes in cycles and that the gap between the elite and the rest will close eventually.
“People can’t see anyone beating Dublin but if you look at the other Leinster counties competing at underage; Meath, Kildare, Westmeath and even Longford & Offaly – they have been very competitive with Dublin. The greatest advantage the Dubs have is that their players live within a 5 mile radius. In most other counties, 60% of players are commuting from college, rushing to training and getting home late at night. Dublin have a very professional setup”.
Since his exploits with Clare, McDermott has managed Garycastle of Westmeath and Parnells in Dublin, but his most recent success came with a youthful Ramor United in Cavan. To those outside the camp, Ramor had little chances of challenging but McDermott instilled those core values within the squad as they went on to win the championship and contest in Ulster. However, his latest challenge has brought him to Wolfe Tones in Meath. The experienced bainisteoir can see the huge potential within their ranks, and a group of players willing to commit.
“All I ask for, any day we take to the field is to give of their best and focus on giving that 10 out of 10 performance. My playing style would be a high intensity game plan. It’s a demanding style, requiring an almost inter-county level of fitness. It’s similar to Jürgen Klopp’s game plan of recent years. I would often look to other sports, such as AFL, basketball and rugby union, there’s a lot to learn from them. Meath football demands a physicality and I almost think you have to be manly to survive! The standard is very high, any team on any given day can beat each other, they all believe they can win”
When the Meath SFC will commence is still unknown to many, but McDermott is longing to get back out on the training pitch to work with the lads. There’s no denying the Tones will be a force to be reckoned with.
“What I enjoy most from management is the training, I get so much out of each session. I have a diary where I map out every session; trying to keep each one realistic to what we are going to face over the season, whether that be a blanket defence or a target man full-forward. There’s no better feeling than getting the boots dirty, no matter what the weather is like!’
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Micheal would like to extend his thanks to each club he has managed during his managerial journey. Thanks to John Quirke Photography for the featured image.