Home Farm, St. Patrick’s Athletics, Dundalk, Glentoran, U.C.D., Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers, Longford Town, Dundalk, Finn Harps, Athlone Town, Home Farm, Shelbourne and Kildare County – what do all of these clubs have in common? All of them have, at one stage or another in the last thirty years, employed the services of one Dermot Keely as a player or a manager, or in three instances –U.C.D., Shamrock Rovers and Sligo – as player-manager. It begs the question, what has he got against Bohs?
Quite probably the most successful individual ever to have graced [graced??] the League of Ireland, Keely’s medal haul is impressive. As a player, he won five league medals, four F.A.I. Cup medals, one League Cup medal and three Cup medals north of the border. As a manager, he has won the league four times, the FAI Cup twice, the League Cup and the First Division Shield, as well as gaining promotion with both Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps. Suffice to say that silver polish must form a sizeable part of the Keely household budget.
Faced with such impeccable credentials, it seems typical Irish begrudgery to question or criticize the man. His record speaks for itself and the directors of new boys Kildare County feel that, in Keely, they have the ideal manager to lead them through their formative years. But have they? The signs are there that the iron man of the Eircom League is showing distinct signs of metal fatigue. Questions are being raised about his man-management skills, and also about his ability to commit himself to a club for more than a few seasons.
I’ll nail my colours to the mast on this one. I’m a Shels supporter and recently experienced, from the terraces, four seasons of Keely the manager. Two championships and a Cup win in four seasons would be the envy of most clubs, and for the first three seasons, Dermo was God. It was only last season that the man, who once described the league as a bit of tin, was himself somewhat tarnished.
I suppose it was the three-nil defeat to Rovers that really set it off. A lamentable refereeing display caused Dermo to make his infamous “corruption” allegations against the league. For someone who insists on strict discipline in his teams, it was a strangely indisciplined outburst from a manager who should know better. Most Eircom League fans view the standard of refereeing as incompetent: to imply corruption was going somewhat OTT.
Far be it for me to imply that Keely’s subsequent “breakdown” had anything to do with the almost inevitable charges of bringing the game into disrepute. I am not privy to the inner circle at Shels and so cannot comment on that. What was clear, though, was that the stress was getting to him. Big time. We were all used to Keely shouting obscenities at his own players during a match, but at times it was bordering on the personal. If I was a player and he started screaming at me that I was “f_______ sh___”, because a pass of mine had gone astray, I don’t think I’d have taken it. Different players have different needs. Some need a kick up the arse, some need encouragement. It seemed as though the schoolmaster in Keely only recognised the former. The stress of keeping a big club on top of the league was clearly playing on him, and it was decided, rightly, that he should take a sabbatical.
Noel King and Alan Matthews took over in Keely’s absence and Shels went on an unbeaten run that stretched into the New Year. The joke at Tolka was not who would win the player of the year, but who would be the manager of the year. Dermot started coming to the games again, content with sitting in the stand. The talk was how we would accommodate all three managers once Dermot was ready to take over again. Should we disturb a winning team and let Dermot take over? Should Dermo be offered something akin to director of football? Whatever was going to happen, it was clear that it would have to be done with a large amount of tact and diplomacy.
What actually happened was that Dermot got annoyed during a game and took over there and then. Afterwards, he told the press that Alan and Noel had done a good job, but he couldn’t sit back and watch Wes running around like a headless chicken. Not the greatest display of man-management the League had ever seen. King disappeared from Tolka and Alan Matthews left at the end of the season. Two of the men most responsible for Shels second championship in three years were publicly humiliated by Keely.
Despite Dermot’s alleged rehabilitation and new-found enthusiasm, it was clear to all that he was still suffering from stress. That the Pat’s registration issue was taking its toll was obvious. Shels form wobbled alarmingly and it was only Pats being deducted 15 points that gave Shels the title. Comparisons were made between Pats and Keely’s expensively assembled team, to the detriment of the latter. Pat Dolan frequently asserted that they were the best team in the league. Comparisons were also made between the King / Matthews team and the Keely team, again not favourably to the manager in situ.
But Shels stumbled their way to the league championship. The league won, we had to fulfill our final fixture in Dalymount. It was the final game of a highly stressful season with nothing at stake. The sun shone. A “Six” reject entertained us at half time. Bohs won 4-0. The view of most Shels fans [most eL fans, I dare to venture] was that thank God the season was over.
Not so Dermo. Dermo spent the game having a go at his own players. At one stage, I thought Peter Hutton was going to come over and hit him. They had a running battle throughout the match.
After the game, Keely resigned. He cited the inept and lacklustre display by the team as one of the reasons, saying that Shels fans were entitled to better. Most of the fans, though stung by the heaviness of the defeat, recognised it for what it was – a lacklustre display in the final game of a season best forgotten. For a man who had been shown so much understanding by the Shels board, it was incredible the complete lack of understanding he showed towards his players. Every team has off-days –if a manager resigned every time he felt his team didn’t put in 100% effort, each team would have four managers a season. And this was not even in a match of any importance!! It was decidedly odd, to say the least.
Of course, this was not the first time that Keely had done this. He’d resigned from Sligo Rovers in the early nineties after a bad defeat to Athlone Town. When reinstated, he gave free transfers to three players, including Dennis Bonner.
In fact, Dermo seems to make a habit of resigning on a “matter of principle” – ask anyone up in Ballybofey about his resignation, when a consortium failed to take over the club. Other managers get the sack – Keely resigns.
His resignation was announced on April Fools Day, but it was Shels who were the fools. From having had three top-class managers in the space of a season, we now had none.
The second reason he gave was his total disenchantment with the league. “It’s the worst administered league, probably in the world,” he said. “I feel very low and its been coming for ages. Watching this drama unfold in the papers doesn’t make you proud to be part of the league.”
Yet, despite this explanation, he announced 22 days later that he was interested in taking over from Rico at Rovers. But what about his disenchantment with the league? I’m bored, he replied. During his three week absence –during which time he’d been on holiday, and much shorter than a normal close season – he had missed the league so much that he couldn’t wait to come back!!!
Six days later, after failing to land the Rovers’ job, he was unveiled as the manager of the newly formed Kildare County. “The novelty attracted me here,” he explained. Ah, yes, Dermot. But what’s going to happen when the novelty wears off?
It is his ninth managerial appointment in the last fifteen years. On average therefore, his management tenure has been less than two years at each of his clubs. [I am not counting his eight games in charge of UCD in 1983] This does not augur well for Kildare County, who need a period of stability to gain a foothold in the First Division. Their cause is difficult enough, without having management upheavals. Keely’s management record suggests that he lacks the character to stay at a club for any period of time. His man-management style is disciplinarian and is not geared to team spirit. Tactically, he has few peers at management level, but he lacks the willingness to give his players the freedom to express themselves, both on and off the field, and underestimates the importance of team spirit. He also appears to have the attitude that if success isn’t instantaneous, then he’s not going to be there for the long slog. Or maybe it’s a pressure thing – a new manager at a club is given a period of acclimatisation. Pressure to achieve is directly related to time spent. Keely’s inability to handle pressure may explain his lack of longevity at the helm of any club.
Recently, after Kildare lost 2-0 to Finn Harps in the first leg of the First Division Mickey Mouse Shield, Keely came on Newstalk 106 to publicly lambast his players for their lack of effort. During this tirade, he made the observation that he wasn’t going to stick around if that was the level of performance he was going to get out of his players. Sound familiar? [History attests to the veracity of that remark, as he doesn’t seem to stick around anywhere for very long.] That aside, the policy of giving his players a public bollocking would not, I suggest, galvanise those players into walking through walls for him. Jim McLoughlin never criticized his players in public, nor does Pat Dolan, nor Mick McCarthy nor any top-class manager. Its generally regarded as a no-no. Dermo does it regularly. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I don’t believe it’s a planned strategy, but something that spills out in the emotion of the occasion. But a manager of his experience should possess the ability to bite his lip. Players don’t generally like being bollocked at the best of times, but they would prefer it to happen in the dressing room or on the training ground, rather than in the media. If you don’t show loyalty to your players, you cannot expect to receive any back.
That particular outburst was so reminiscent of his diatribe after the Bohs – Shels game, that one sympathises with the followers of Kildare County. Players not putting in the effort in a game that had very little meaning. The writing seems to be on the wall already in Kildare, and they’d be well advised to keep an eye out for a replacement, particularly if the Thoroughbreds come up against an incompetent referee, or the level of performance isn’t quite what’s desired.
Having said all that, Dermo could just as easily prove me wrong and in 2012, be celebrating his fourth league championship with Kildare. I don’t think so though. More than likely, he’ll have worked his way through every club in the league and be starting off all over again. Its time the Tin Man started showing his mettle.