Coffey Steps Into The Breach Following Cooney Resignation As Offaly Football Supremo

TOM Coffey has taken over as Offaly senior football manager after a dramatic few days that saw Gerry Cooney step down as boss last Thursday night.

Cooney, a native of Tullamore who has lived in Meath and Dublin for most of his life, brought an abrupt end to his term as manager last Thursday night after a meeting with players earlier that evening.

Handed the job late last year after a long drawn out and farcical appointment process, Cooney struggled to make the impact he desired and ended increasing speculation about his future by resigning last week.

Cooney’s position has become increasingly difficult in recent weeks. Offaly suffered the disappointment of relegation to Division 4 of the Allianz Football League and even though their performances were substandard, that alone would not have proven fatal to Cooney as he would have been given breathing space to turn things around.

However, of more concern were suggestions that he did not have full support in the dressing room, fuelled by the withdrawal of some key players. Edenderry’s Richie Dalton and Sean Pender (He subsequently returned to the panel), Gracefield’s Niall Smith and Clara’s Ross Brady all withdrew during the league and the decision of star midfielder, Brian Connor to head to Chicago for the summer this week added to the sense of disillusionment surrounding their prospects.

Smith, Dalton, Pender and Connor would all be automatic choices on the team and Brady would be in strong contention for a place. The withdrawal of so many players certainly undermined Cooney and coupled with the results, it made last week’s decision inevitable in ways.

Things had been reaching boiling point since the Tipperary defeat condemned them to relegation but they finally bubbled over at training last Tuesday night week.

29 players were present, though a number didn’t train because of injury, and they were put through a grueling running session. Some players reacted angrily to the severity of the training with Walsh Island’s Rory Connor walking off and others making their displeasure known.

Over the following day things came to a head as more players threatened to leave the panel and Cooney cancelled a scheduled training session on Thursday night, instead calling a crisis meeting with players.

A frank exchange of views took place and with a number of players making no bones about their dissatisfaction at Cooney’s management (The training session on Tuesday night came in for considerable stick with some players expressing the view that they should be playing mostly football at this time of year and the hard training should have been done earlier in the season), he took the view that his position was no longer tenable and decided to walk away.

Cooney was not making any public comment on his resignation this week but will be very disappointed at his reign ending so prematurely.

A selector under Kevin Kilmurray when Offaly reached the Leinster senior football final in 2006, Cooney had been on the verge of going after a very bad defeat by Wexford during the league but at the time, County Board officers helped convince him to stay on. Results, however, only marginally improved as Offaly beat Cavan but a closing round defeat by Tipperary condemned them to the drop.

Tom Coffey has now stepped into the breach and his appointment will be warmly welcomed by supporters. A very successful manager with Rhode, he led them to Senior Football Championship title in 2008 and 2010. A former selector with Offaly minor footballers, he managed Offaly U-21 footballers for a couple of years, leading them to a Leinster final in 2007, when they lost to Laois.

Managing Athlone in Westmeath this year, Coffey had been one of the front runners for the Offaly job when Tom Cribben stepped down at the end of the 2011 season. Along with Rhode’s Stephen Darby and Dublin’s Jack Sheedy, he was among the three initial candidates who were interviewed by the selection committee.

Coffey, however, withdrew in protest when the process dragged on for months without a decision being made and Cooney was a ‘compromise’ appointment when Darby also pulled out and Sheedy was ruled out.

Coffey, however, had no hesitation in allowing his name to go forward again when approached by the Offaly GAA County Board last Friday. It is understood that Stephen Darby also wished to be considered again, along with another Rhode man, Pascal Kellaghan who was Offaly U-21 football manager this year, steering them to morale boosting wins over Meath and Kildare before their season was ended by Louth in the Leinster semi-final.

The Offaly GAA Management Committee, the committee charged with running GAA affairs in the county on a day to day basis, met on Sunday morning where they decided to give Coffey the job. His appointment will still have to be ratified by a full meeting of the Offaly GAA County Board but that will be a formality.

Coffey will now be bidding to turn around things in the build up to the June 17 Leinster Senior Football Championship clash against Kildare – He has just been appointed for the remainder of the season but barring something major goes wrong, he should get and will be entitled to the job for next year as well.

A native of Ballyfore, Coffey transferred his playing allegiance to Rhode, where he has lived most of his adult life, in 1999. A brilliant footballer, he won an All-Ireland U-21 Football Championship medal in 1988 and played for Offaly senior footballers for over a decade.

A teak tough defender who also played in attack, Coffey played his best football under Tommy Lyons from 1997 to 1999 and was in superb form as Offaly won the Leinster Senior Football Championship and National Football League medals in 1997 and 1998.

He retired from club football in 2003 and he quickly became involved in managing teams, with considerable success. Managing Offaly senior footballers was always top of his list of ambitions and he has now got that chance – Along with Tullamore’s Phil O’Reilly and Doon’s Vinny Claffey, he formed part of an interim management team when player power forced Richie Connor’s resignation as manager in 2009: They were part of the committee that subsequently put Tom Cribben in place as manager.

Coffey was trying to put together a management practice at the time of writing but it will not include Gerry Cooney’s selectors, Tony Kenny (Edenderry) and James Stewart (Clara) or any of the outgoing back room team. Coffey will, however, come up with a strong management structure and they will quickly get down to serious work.
Training did take place last Friday night and Sunday morning with star forward, the injured Niall McNamee putting the squad through their paces.

The Offaly GAA County Board issued two statements last week, the first announcing Gerry Cooney’s departure:
‘Offaly County Board Chairman Pat Teehan has issued a statement saying that it is with regret that he reluctantly accepts the resignation of Gerry Cooney as Offaly Senior Football Manager. Gerry and his management team had a lengthy meeting with the panel of players last night and afterwards Gerry tendered his resignation in what he described as the best interest of Offaly Football. Pat Teehan thanked Gerry for his loyalty, commitment and 100% dedication to the long term future of Offaly football.

‘Offaly County Board will now commence the process of putting in place, an interim management, for the Championship. Offaly County Board or Gerry Cooney will not be issuing any further statement at this time.’

The second statement on Sunday announced Tom Coffey’s appointment:
‘Offaly GAA have appointed Tom Coffey as the interim Manager of the Offaly Senior Football team for the 2012 championship season. Tom was appointed today at a meeting of the Offaly County Board Management Committee in O’Connor Park as the interim Manager to replace Gerry Cooney. Tom will take up the position with immediate effect and there is no further details available with respect to his backroom team, but this will be announced in due course. This is Tom’s second term as Offaly interim Manager as he also fillied this position during the League campaign of 2009. Offaly GAA wish Tom all the very best in the position.’