There are many variables that impact on the success of a team. One variable widely acknowledged is the contribution of a coach or manager. Across time we have seen two models of progression to coaching jobs through a variety of sports.


1. The quick progression of a recent former player to head coach.
2. The gradual progression of a coach (former player or not) to top level positions through coach education, accreditation and coaching experience.

As most might agree, the best and most successful managers in recent times in soccer would arguably be Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Alex Ferguson Louis Van Gaal, Guus Hiddink and Arsene Wenger. In an Irish GAA context, we could arguably allude to Jimmy McGuiness, Malachy O Rourke, Liam Sheedy, Jim Gavin, Eamon Fitzmaurice, Jack O Connor and Brian Cody. At lower levels, we could argue for Terry Hyland (Cavan (3 Ulster U21 championships in succession), JJ Doyle (Wexford U21) and the joint managerial reign of the Clare U21 hurlers, Donal Maloney and Gerry O’Connor.

Sir Alex

So what have all of these got in common?

Looking at the second model of progression listed from a soccer context, Jose Mourinho began his coaching at the tender age of 17 with underage players and followed through a university sport science degree programme before he commenced work under the tutelage of Sir Bobby Robson at Barcelona FC. After gradually gaining experience he eventually got a Head coach position at FC Porto where he famously went on to win an unprecedented treble of League Cup and Champions League for the Portuguese club. Alex Ferguson took his coaching badges while still a player at Rangers and cut his teeth with unknown teams in Scotland before landing the job at Aberdeen. He had major success here in European competitions before landing the job at Manchester United. Arsene Wenger never played professional football but with his coaching accreditation secured, he commenced work coaching the elite French youth players at France’s centre of excellence outside Paris in Clairefontain before he had success in the J League (Japan) and moving on to Arsenal. Pep Guardiola played at the top level but also took his coaching badges and learned the ropes at youth level before coaching what is now considered to be the greatest club team of all time. David Moyes got an opportunity at Manchester Utd after a long stint with Everton. However, he learned his trade at the lowest leagues in the UK while building his CV along the way. A recent story read that he often slept in a car travelling around to coaching conferences trying to learn from the best and he has now landed the job at arguably one of the most prestigious clubs in the world. His replacement at Everton Roberto Martinez started taking his coaching badges while he was a pro at the tender age of 26 and has been building his managerial career since. New young managers in the premiership

From a GAA context, Jimmy McGuiness played at the highest level while gaining his exercise and health degrees at Tralee Institute of Technology and University of Ulster, Jordanstown. This was followed up with and MSc in Sport Psychology from Liverpool John Moores University. This experience had him almost beg for the Donegal U21 job as he said himself that he would be considered a bit “out there” due to his long hair and cavalier ways of his playing days. In his first year he reached the All Ireland u21 final. In his first year with the senior team the following year, Donegal won the Ulster championship and secured the All Ireland in his second year for only the second time in the counties history. Glasgow Celtic FC have now taken advantage of his expertise and have employed him as a sport psychologist within their club.

Malachy O Rourke served his time at club level with the former Fermanagh player guiding Derry side Loup to the Ulster Club title in 2003 and steered Errigal Ciaran and Cavan Gaels to county titles in Tyrone and Cavan. He also managed the Erne side Fermanagh to an Ulster Final before landing the Monaghan senior job and winning 2 Ulster titles.

Jimmy Barry Murphy learned his trade winning U16, minor and U21 titles with Cork as a coach before landing the senior managers job and guiding Cork to win a senior All-Ireland in 1999. Liam Sheedy enjoyed success coaching at underage level in Tipperary before going on to have an impact on the Tipperary Senior hurlers and club teams in both Tipperary and Clare at senior level.

Terry Hyland (Cavan) and the joint Clare U21 management have overseen massive transformation in the underage success in their respective counties from development squad level with the Clare success story starting at U14 level involvement. Meanwhile JJ Doyle in Wexford coached numerous underage teams before winning an unprecedented 4 All Irelands with the Wexford camoige team and now has guided the U21 hurlers to three Leinster titles in a row.

While Brian Cody of Kilkenny fame would be widely be regarded as one of if not the greatest managers of all time, he had the knowledge and experience to delegate very well and surround himself with excellent people. Martin Fogarty who has recently left Cody’s backroom team would widely be regarded as one of the best hurling coaches in Ireland. A teacher by profession, he has been behind numerous underage successes in Kilkenny before he ever got involved with Brian Cody at senior level and this brings me to my next point.

Those that are most successful surround themselves with very knowledgeable people. While it is very easy for wealthy clubs in the UK to pay for expertise, they also only go for people with a minimum requirement of MSc in Sport Sciences in the various areas of expertise (strength and conditioning, nutrition, sport psychology etc). However these trends are having a strong transfer across the Irish Sea to the most successful teams in GAA.

Jimmy McGuiness surrounded himself with highly qualified sport science people before his recent success allied to his own impressive qualifications. During the course of his reign, Liam Sheedy utilised the services of Dr Cian O’Neill in University of Limerick while Jim Gavin uses the services of NADA’s strength and conditioning coach Martin Kennedy (who was previously involved with Anthony Daly and the Dublin hurlers).

Terry Hyland in Cavan has also used NADA’s services in the past before recently appointing a qualified strength and conditioning coach and former Tyrone senior footballer in a full time role. Clare and David Fitzgerald have used the services of Tralee IT lecturer Joe O Connor (who had previously worked with him in Waterford) while they have also had a qualified physical education teacher overseeing the training of both the senior and U21 pitch sessions in their drive to win All- Ireland senior and U21 All Irelands in 2013.

All said, there appears to be an emerging trend among the most successful teams. There appears to be a strong link between success and coaching and sport science qualifications. There also appears to be a strong link between coaching experience and success with the most successful teams seeing their coaching structure through from the development and underage ranks. Another prime example of this is Mickey Harte and his Tyrone success.

Alex Ferguson’s success didn’t come quick for him and he was very nearly out of a job before it all came good. The emergence of his talented kids (Nevilles, Beckham, Scholes and Nicky Butt) in 1995 undermined Alan Hansen’s famous rant that “you can’t win championships with kids!”. The fact that he oversaw their development through a coherent and well organised development programme meant that he knew what he was dealing with and he knew that they were ready.  In his recent book, he outlined that getting the coaching structures of the club in place was his first major task when he joined the club. Likewise, Barcelona’s underage system is now so renowned that teams from other countries are queuing up to take their young graduates on loan.

Would any of the success mentioned above have happened if there hadn’t been a coherent planned out approach overseen by qualified individuals in the area of sport and exercise science. Such levels of coaching experience and expertise ensure that players are competitively fit, skilled and playing to a coherent strategy and method as a unit. Not alone this, It draws a greater level of buy in from players to the team ethos ensuring high levels of motivation and commitment that ensures the team is playing to its maximum – and thus a higher likelihood of success.

Contrast this with the first model of progression. Former greats, Steven Staunton, Brian Robson, Paul Gascoigne, Diego  and countless others pitted their wits at the top level without learning the ropes and failed miserably.

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