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Life as an intercounty manager – a job where the outer boundaries aren’t staked

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Davy Burke’s young lad had his first birthday last weekend. They didn’t exactly throw a street carnival for him but they had a thing and it was nice and they were able to breathe out, like first-time parents tend to do at the 12-month mark. Made it through in one piece. Delighted.

For the first 10 months of the kid’s life, Burke was the Wicklow football manager. He left the job in August and it definitely wasn’t lost on him last weekend that they were able to have a different sort of afternoon, now that he is back in civilian life. Small things. Really big small things.

“Usually I would have been on the phone for some of it,” Burke says. “Or for most of it, in all honesty. But I was able to leave the phone upstairs and just be in the moment, which is new for me. It was so much easier because I’m not with a team. Otherwise, there would have been some member of the backroom team looking for me, there would have been a player ringing with an issue.

“There would have been something. You’re not really in the moment. There’s no point dressing it up – family life really suffers if you’re managing at intercounty level. No point dressing it up any other way. There will be three or four days in every week where you are just basically not present. You go to work at six or seven in the morning and you’re not home until midnight. And the other three or four days are a grey area at best.”

For Ryan McMenamin, the purest joy of the week just gone was heading to see his club Dromore play one of the matches of the decade against county champions Dungannon on Monday night. It wasn’t relaxing in any way – Dromore were 2-3 to 0-1 down after eight minutes but fought their way back to take an epic by 2-22 to 4-12 after extra-time. Everyone in the ground was wiped after it. Bliss.

Over the past few months since teams began exiting the championship, 10 counties have either changed or are in the process of changing their managers.

McMenamin was the Fermanagh manager for the past two seasons, having been Rory Gallagher’s right-hand man in the role for the two years previous to that. There were plenty of weekends across those four years where tipping along to a Dromore match in Tyrone just wasn’t an option that was open to him. There’d have been a club match in Fermanagh on at the same time, or a meeting with some county committee or other, or a potential sponsor to sweet-talk. There’d have been something.

“It was just so nice to go to it,” McMenamin says. “It was a great game of football and to be able to sit back and enjoy it was brilliant. My good friend Collie McCullagh takes Dromore and the natives were getting angry around me when we were nine down but then next thing the whole thing came back and it turned into a great game.

“My fingernails were going, I was roaring and shouting and my voice was going. But it was just nice to go as a supporter. I have found myself really sitting back and enjoying games over the last few weeks. Even with Tyrone this year, watching them go to the All-Ireland and knowing I wasn’t involved with Fermanagh anymore. I really had a deeper appreciation for it.”

In the 2021 football championship, the average tenure of the 31 managers was 2.83 seasons. This was up from the previous year’s 2.61. Over the past few months since teams began exiting the championship, 10 counties have either changed or are in the process of changing their managers. It means that when next year kicks into gear, the average tenure of the men filling the bainisteoir bibs will be exactly three years.

The numbers in hurling are obviously skewed by the Victorian reign of Brian Cody in Kilkenny. With him in the mix, the average tenure during the 2021 championship was just shy of five years. Take him out and the average of the others drops to 2.8. There’ll be three new managers in the 2022 hurling championship – Darragh Egan in Wexford, Colm Bonnar in Tipp and whoever Galway eventually appoint.

Burke and McMenamin both did it for two years and they both hope to do it again. McMenamin is currently in discussions with Mickey Graham in Cavan about joining the backroom there for 2022. Burke is taking coaching sessions here and there – the morning we talked he had just finished a pre-dawn work-out with the Maynooth Sigerson team – and was in the mix for the Kildare job in recent weeks. “If any county chairmen are reading this, make sure and say I still love it!” he laughs.

Most people have a vague, general idea of the life of an intercounty manager. Some liken it to being the person in charge of an SME, just without the pay (ahem, in most cases, cough, cough). Others regard it as being a bit like being a school principal, except it’s one where every kid’s homework marks are read out on the national news on a Sunday night. But essentially, unless you’ve done it, nobody really gets it.

Ryan McMenamin is currently in discussions with Mickey Graham in Cavan about joining the backroom there for 2022. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Ryan McMenamin is currently in discussions with Mickey Graham in Cavan about joining the backroom there for 2022. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Nobody ever mistook the Wicklow and Fermanagh jobs for cushy numbers. McMenamin tells a story about playing Tyrone in a challenge match earlier this year in Brewster Park. Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher came over for a chat before the game but he hadn’t time for them. “I was laughing because I had to say to them, ‘Hang on there men, I’ll be in in a minute – I’m just helping my kitman here’. Meanwhile, they had three or four analysts strolling in behind them.”

But the gig is still the gig. Whether you’re trying to compete for the All-Ireland or just looking to win more league games than you lose, the pull on your life is the same. It’s a job where the outer boundaries aren’t staked. You don’t clock off. You don’t check out. Everything else becomes something you fit in around it, if at all.

“When you’re the manager, you worry about everything,” says Burke. “Is this nutritionist coming tonight to do the calliper tests? Where’s the kitman? Is the food here? Is the doctor here? This is all stuff you get consumed with all day, every day. The questions tick along in your head non-stop.

“Most intercounty managers are paranoid, to be honest about it. You’re paranoid about everything. If a fella is three minutes late, you’re automatically worrying is everything all right at home or at work. You’re watching the body language of players, of backroom people. You’re pulling this lad or that lad aside to ask is everything okay? You’re trying to watch everything.

“Because what it comes down to is the players. And in the modern world, they have access to everything immediately. Everything is on their phone in their normal lives – whether that’s social media, whether it’s Netflix or Sky Sports or whatever it is. Your set-up has to match that immediacy. You have to have all the bases covered and you have to be able to give it to them quickly.

The first year you’re in, you’re great. The second year you’re in, there’s someone better being talked about. The third year you’re in, it’s, ‘How did that man ever get that job?’

“Players look for exits. You have to make sure everyone is accountable, otherwise players are going to see through it and they’ll just go, ‘That’s a load of shite, Davy’. And that means constant contact with your S&C guys, with your physios, with your logistics man, with your county chairman. It means doing all your analysis ahead of time and it means worrying all the time. Because ultimately, the set-up is a reflection on me.”

The problem with sport, of course, is that the other crowd go training three nights a week as well. All the worrying you’re doing, the man down the road is doing it too. All the planning, all the analysing, all the organising. And at a certain point, you all turn up at a pitch and a referee throws in the ball. The only bit the outside world can see is the bit you have the least amount of control over.

“The thing with county football is that you are judged nationally,” says McMenamin. “Your week’s work is judged on a Sunday. If you lose a club match, it’s not even the whole of your county that passes any remarks. But if you’re over Fermanagh and you get beat by eight or nine points, it’s in the national papers, it’s on the news, it’s on the TV.

“The first year you’re in, you’re great. The second year you’re in, there’s someone better being talked about. The third year you’re in, it’s, ‘How did that man ever get that job?’ And it’s in the papers and on message boards and on Twitter, which thankfully I don’t go near. But ultimately, everything you’ve done is getting judged on a weekly basis.

“What it means is that a bad result turns everyone to thinking something’s not right. And you have to address that before training comes around on the Tuesday night. So you’re spending Sunday night watching the match again. You’re identifying what went wrong so that you can be straight in on the Tuesday saying, ‘This is the problem, this is the solution’. And then you’re onto the next game, planning for that. It’s always on your mind.”

Life is different now. Before his intercounty management days, McMenamin was a great man for a city break. Short notice, cheap flight, up and away. He’s getting back into it, now that he’s a normal person again. He and his wife got a new Burmese puppy recently so that’s relegated him to the third most important entity in the house. He couldn’t be happier with his status.

“And even just, like, it’s nice on an evening to know I don’t have to sit down and watch a Wicklow match. It’s nice to be able to head down to the village for a couple of pints of Guinness and not be thinking about the Antrim midfield.”

Likewise, Burke is enjoying this period of having nothing to do. Actually, that’s not quite it. It’s more not having everything to do. Or not feeling like he does, at any rate. He is able to make time for the rest of his life, rather than squeezing the rest of his life to make time.

“There’s no doubt you neglect things,” Burke says. “I can only speak personally but I absolutely neglect my own health and fitness and personal wellbeing. I would think nothing of setting the clock for 6am to get up and drive 40 minutes to supervise a gym session with some of my players if that’s the only slot you could get. You will find time to do that without giving it a second thought.

“But would I go and do my own gym session at 6.45am? Probably not. That’s the mental psyche that I’m stuck in. I have no doubt whatsoever that there’s a huge toll mentally and physically on the body because it’s non-stop, you can’t switch off. It’s worry, fear, excitement. It’s all of that.”

And yet, they’ll go again. No question or doubt about it. “There’s no gun to our heads -– we do it because we love it,” says Burke. “You’re trying to make better people, at the end of the day,” says McMenamin.

“That’s the great thing about it. You need to be a good planner and you need to accept that you’re giving a huge amount of your time to it. But you do thoroughly enjoy it too. Otherwise you wouldn’t bother.”

In a complex world, there aren’t many simpler truths to tell than that.

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Leinster’s accuracy proves key as they see off Munster in demolition derby

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Leinster 35 Munster 25

A breathtaking and, it has to be said, physically punishing game, which ebbed and flowed from first to last, ended with Leinster getting more than they needed and Munster coming up short of their targets. Well, to a point.

Munster went into the last game requiring at least two match points for a home quarter-final and a bonus point for the additional carrot of a potential home semi-final.

In the end, they came up with zero, which was perhaps preferable in that it earned them an away quarter-final against Ulster rather than against the Bulls. Even so, the winners of that Irish derby in a fortnight will be away in the semi-finals against the Stormers or Edinburgh.

In the other half of the draw Leinster will host Glasgow in the quarter-finals, and the winners of that tie will have home advantage in the semi-finals.

The mix of requirements made for a thrilling game. Leinster were ultimately the more accurate and pacier side, epitomised by the jet-heeled Jordan Larmour, who made everyone else look like they were being towed and his counterattacking and running led to two of Leinster’s four tries. It was a timely reminder of his abilities, and might well earn him a place on the bench in the Champions Cup final against La Rochelle, who themselves welcomed back Will Skelton off the bench against Stade Francais on Saturday.

Munster’s game didn’t lack for ambition at all, and their similar mix featured classy performances by Thomas Ahern, Alex Kendellen, Jack O’Donoghue and Conor Murray. But they weren’t as accurate or quite as pacey.

This hungry Leinster mix of young and experienced were not in a remotely charitable mood, and shot out of the traps. Harry Byrne’s perfect kick-off was reclaimed by the recalled Ryan Baird and inside 80 seconds Leinster had scored without Munster touching the ball.

Generating trademark quick ball, with Baird making one big carry and Scott Penny a couple, before Ciarán Frawley used an advantage to crosskick perfectly for Penny to gather and use his footwork to step Joey Carbery and finish in the corner.

Harry Byrne didn’t land the difficult conversion, but added a penalty before offloads by Kendellen and Ahern and a couple of nicely weighted grubbers to the edges by Murray and Carbery earned an attacking lineout. The first scrap followed too. Yep, derby on.

Attacking wide and through phases, Munster used an advantage when Carbery pulled the ball back as Keith Earls worked across from his wing and flung a peach of a left-hander for O’Donoghue to take Cormac Foley’s tackle and finish well in the corner.

Leinster’s Rory O’Loughlin on his way to scoring a try despite Keynan Knox and Mike Haley of Munster during the United Rugby Championship match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Leinster’s Rory O’Loughlin on his way to scoring a try despite Keynan Knox and Mike Haley of Munster during the United Rugby Championship match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Next, after Frawley’s spillage, the recalled Andrew Conway chased Murray’s perfectly weighted kick to prevent Larmour gathering, Niall Scannell’s gallop earning another attacking lineout.

Again Munster engineered another free play, and after a strong carry by Kendellen from Murray’s pass behind his back, Mike Haley was sharply on hand to pick up and dive over under the posts.

The force was with Munster, all the more so after Conway cleanly reclaimed another box kick by Murray. But when Kendellen kicked through Larmour beat the flanker’s follow-up tackle and left a trail of four more forwards in his wake before being tackled by Murray. From the recycle, Jamie Osborne stepped and Frawley took a superb line on to his short pass for a clean break and had Foley in support. The 22-year-old showed the quickness from his formative years as a centre with St Gerard’s to complete his first Leinster try on his home debut, and some try too.

The game’s first scrums provided an almost welcome breather. Frawley, after his two sumptuous try assists, had to depart for one of several failed HIAs in the game, and didn’t return.

The lively Earls then countered with Haley, Carbery and Kendellen before Rob Russell’s deliberate knock-on prevented the ball reaching three unmarked players and earning him a yellow card. But Baird spoiled the Munster lineout to protect his side’s 15-12 lead until the interval.

But on the resumption Munster struck. Haley chased his own kick, preventing Osborne from gathering cleanly and Murray was sharply on to the loose ball to skip away from Foley’s tackle and score.

Harry Byrne brought it back to a one-point game after Foley’s high tackle on Josh Murphy, and although Munster were clearly now mindful of the chance for a fourth try when going to the corner, before accepting a tap over penalty to push them four points ahead.

Typical of this match, back came Leinster. First Foley executed a 50:22 and despite just changing their frontrow the maul was gathering speed when it collapsed and Frank Murphy adjudged it a penalty try and sinbinned Niall Scannell.

After Max Deegan’s covering tackle on the ever dangerous Chris Farrell into touch, a lovely launch play and a flatish pass by Foley for Joe McCarthy’s carry over the gainline, was the prelude to Leinster reloading right and another slaloming run by Larmour. An offload by McCarty and fine pass by Deegan created the space for Rory O’Loughlin to use a two-on-two and a mismatch with the covering Kenyan Knox to score.

Suddenly it was 32-22 to Leinster.

A spellbinding spell of offloading featuring Murray, Ahern, O’Donoghue and Kendellen ended with Earls finishing off O’Donoghue’s offload, but Murphy adjudged it forward. Instead, Munster had to opt for another Carbery penalty to complete the first task of getting to within one score before chasing a fourth try.

They became over exuberant and conceded penalties, and although Adam Byrne was brilliantly denied by Carbery and Haley, Harry Byrne’s penalty put them 10 ahead, and more relevantly left Munster without anything from the game and looking at a quarter-final away to Ulster.

They had eight minutes or so to do it. They conjured one punishing phased attack, Carbery’s one-handed pick-up and Murray deliberately knocking on with a penalty advantage and then quickly were two of the highlights, but when Carbery prematurely went wide with a looped pass to Jack Daly he was tackled into touch by Osborne.

And that was effectively that.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 2 mins: Penny try 5-0; 9: Byrne pen 8-0; 12: O’Donoghue try 8-5; 17: Haley try, Carbery con 8-12; 23: Foley try, Byrne con 15-12; (half-time 15-12); 41: Murray try, Carbery con 15-19; 46: Byrne pen 18-19; 49: mins Carbery pen 18-22; 51: penalty try 25-22; 54: O’Loughlin try, Byrne con 32-22; 61: Carbery pen 32-25; 71: Byrne pen 35-25.

LEINSTER: Jordan Larmour; Rob Russell, Jamie Osborne, Ciarán Frawley, Rory O’Loughlin; Harry Byrne, Cormac Foley; Ed Byrne (capt), Seán Cronin, Thomas Clarkson; Joe McCarthy, Josh Murphy; Ryan Baird, Scott Penny, Max Deegan.

Replacements: Adam Byrne for Frawley (27 mins), John McKee for Cronin, Peter Dooley for Byrne, Cian Healy for Clarkson (all 49), Devin Toner for J Murphy (55), Ben Murphy for Foley (58), Alex Soroka for McCarthy (66), David Hawkshaw for H Byrne (76).

Sinbinned: Russell (37-47 mins).

MUNSTER: Mike Haley; Andrew Conway, Chris Farrell, Dan Goggin, Keith Earls; Joey Carbery, Conor Murray; Josh Wycherley, Niall Scannell, John Ryan; Jean Kleyn, Thomas Ahern; Fineen Wycherley, Alex Kendellen, Jack O’Donoghue (capt).

Replacements: Jason Jenkins for Kleyn (49 mins), Keynan Knox for Ryan (54), Jeremy Loughman for J Wycherley, Rory Scannell for Goggin (both 55), Diarmuid Barron for Kendellen (58-61), for Scannell (61), Jack Daly for Ahern, Ben Healy for Carbery (both 64), N Scannell for Kendellen (65), Ahern for Daly, Patrick Patterson for Murray (both 76).

Sinbinned: N Scannell (51-61 mins).

Referee: Frank Murphy (IRFU).

URC quarter-finals (Fri, Jun 3rd & Sat, Jun 4th)
1 Leinster v Glasgow Warriors
2 DHL Stormers v Edinburgh
3 Ulster v Munster
4 Vodacom Bulls v Cell C Sharks
 
Semi-finals (Fri, June 10th and Sat Jun 11th)
Leinster or Glasgow v Bulls or Sharks
Stormers or Edinburgh v Ulster or Munster.
 
Shield winners 2021/22:
Irish Shield:
Leinster
South African Shield: DHL Stormers
Welsh Shield: Ospreys
Scottish & Italian Shield: Edinburgh
 

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Aparto debuts in Spain

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Aparto has unveiled its first student residence in Spain to open in September 2022. Aparto Barcelona Pallars, owned by Commerz Real, is located in the 22@, the city’s innovation district, and accommodates 743 beds covering 26,000m². The cutting-edge facilities at aparto Barcelona Pallars include an external circa 45-metre length infinity pool, a 900 square metre rooftop terrace, 2,500m² of gardens including the Butterfly Garden (named because of the type of plants that attract butterflies), the Smell Garden (due to the mixture of aromatic plants), 1,400m² of amenity space including a gym with a weight, cardio, and yoga studios, two cinema rooms, leisure areas, and a bar offering both food and drink services.

 

In addition, a central feature of aparto’s offering is its first-class experience with a focus on the arts including an initiative in which street artists will design some of the paintings on the building, and a mental health programme available to all students all year around, strengthened by aparto employees receiving mental health training to identify anyone who may need help. 

 

aparto Barcelona Pallars has been designed by the Catalonian architecture studio Battle i Roig, a pioneer in landscape architecture, interweaving structures with natural spaces like gardens. Upon construction completion, the building will receive the LEED Gold and WELL Platinum Certifications for sustainability. 

 

aparto offers students a unique safe study experience and flexible model offering medium and long-term stays, from a few months to a full year, with all-inclusive rates including cleaning, Wi-Fi connection, linen services, and some additional features related to sports and wellness sessions, cocktail and cooking classes, and a series of entertainment evenings including movie nights, sports matches and tournaments. Aparto’s focus is to create places where students feel at home living within a strong community.

  

Tom Rix, director of operations at aparto, UK, commented: “With Aparto Barcelona Pallars, Hines is introducing first-class student housing in Spain. Pallars mirrors what today’s students want in terms of facilities, amenities, community engagement, and wellbeing programmes. We have already successfully demonstrated that this innovative model is in high demand in Italy, Ireland, and the UK and we anticipate the same success here in Spain and can’t wait to welcome students to Barcelona.”

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Crossrail house price boom: Reading, Maidenhead and Slough set to become property hotspots

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Crossrail may be billions of pounds over budget and three-and-a-half years late but it’s finally ready to roll.

This extraordinary feat of engineering is due to be put into service on Tuesday, when it will adopt its correct title of the Elizabeth Line. 

The Queen made a surprise visit to Paddington station this week and officially opened the line.

On the line: The Thames flows through Maidenhead, which will now enjoy a direct link to Central London thanks to its new Crossrail station

On the line: The Thames flows through Maidenhead, which will now enjoy a direct link to Central London thanks to its new Crossrail station

Linking Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east with Heathrow and Reading to the west of the capital, it will bind together existing commuter railways, accelerating cross-city travel and relieving overcrowding on the London Underground — particularly the often hellish Central Line.

Commuters’ journey times will be slashed; Reading to London Liverpool Street, for example, will take under an hour.

When fully operational it will increase London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent, making it the largest single expansion of the city’s transport network in more than 70 years.

There are still a few glitches to be ironed out. Initially passengers travelling from Reading in the west to Abbey Wood and beyond will have to change at Paddington or Liverpool Street mainline stations. 

Also Bond Street is three months behind schedule. Trains will not call there until later in the year. Yet these delays pale into insignificance when you consider how the Elizabeth Line will transform rail travel in the capital.

Cross town: The Elizabeth line will run east to west across London, starting in Berkshire and ending in Essex

Cross town: The Elizabeth line will run east to west across London, starting in Berkshire and ending in Essex

The new station at Paddington, for example, is the size of three Wembley football pitches, with natural light as far as the platform entry from a nearly 400ft-long glass canopy.

More than £1 billion has been spent on upgrading 31 existing stations and tracks. Spacious tunnels will lead to airy 600 ft platforms, with glass screens at the edge of the tracks, making it impossible to fall under a train. 

Step-free access from street to train will make the service accessible to wheelchairs. 

The nine-car, air-conditioned trains will have colourful bench seats and open interiors with full-width walk-through connections between cars. It will be a world away from today’s cramped, cluttered carriages.

Few engineering projects change the way we live but The Elizabeth Line promises to do just that. People are already flocking to the new stations.

Research from Savills last year found that, over the past five years, homes within 0.6 mile of about half of the stations on the line have increased in price by 25 per cent or more.

It follows that when the sleek and airy new trains come into service, delivering people to their workplaces in double quick time, we can expect a migration to the west of London.

Here are the hotspots:

Reading revival

Outlay: More than £1bn has been spent on upgrading 31 existing stations and tracks

Outlay: More than £1bn has been spent on upgrading 31 existing stations and tracks

Not so long ago Reading was best known for its brewery and its biscuit factory — not any more. 

International companies, including Amazon UK, Virgin Media and KPMG have moved there and with reasonably priced homes, compared to London, the town is already popular with commuters.

‘I recently dealt with a young woman who sold her 750 sq ft flat in London for £600,000 and bought a 1,750 ft duplex in Reading for £650,000,’ says James Hathaway, of Winkworth estate agents.

The town has lots of green space, riverside walks, the Grade II-listed Thames Lido and great shopping, notably in Broad Street and the Oracle centre. The average price of a home sold in Reading was £384,000 last year.

Compare that to the £512,000 average price in, say, East London and you will see why an exodus from the capital is forecast when the Elizabeth Line makes commuting a doddle.

Maidenhead marches on

This Berkshire town is keen to attract the City bankers who had previously been put off living there by having to trek across the capital’s underground system to get to work.

‘The Elizabeth Line changes all that and buyer enquiries have already started booming,’ says Dawn Carritt at Jackson-Stops estate agents.

‘The prospect of living near the river in Maidenhead or in nearby villages such as Sonning and Bray is appealing.’

Maidenhead (with Theresa May as its MP) is on the cusp of a revival. Its 1960s shopping centre is to be transformed into The Nicholson Quarter, a swish mixed-use centre.

The area by the river is being developed and trendy cocktail bars and restaurants such as Coppa Club are thriving — a sure sign of a town on the up.

Slough expansion

Ricky Gervais did Slough no favours when he set The Office there. Yet the town has a lot going for it. It is well located for travel, nestling between the M4 and the M40 and within easy reach of the M25 and Heathrow airport.

First-time buyer portal Share to Buy claims that Slough has been one of the UK’s top ten property hotspots over the past decade with a 73 per cent increase in house prices. 

The Berkeley Group is redeveloping the former Horlicks factory and site to create 1,300 homes.

A small flat sells for £150,000 and a three-bed terrace house for £350,000. The centre is being improved and with the coming of the Elizabeth Line, things can only get better.

On the market… the hotspots 

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