1 Mickey Harte
HARTE is frequently mentioned in discussions of the all-time greatest managers, so it’s no real surprise that he tops our list. He revolutionised Gaelic Football during the noughties as he led Tyrone to the promised land on three separate occasions, getting the better of elite managers like Joe Kernan and Jack O’Connor on the way. He also led the Tyrone minors to an All-Ireland in 1998 and the u-21s to back-to-back triumphs in 2000 and 2001. That’s without mentioning the countless Ulster titles and his longevity: this was his 17th year in charge of the Tyrone senior intercounty team, and even though he hasn’t reached the same heights as manager in the last decade, his place in history is long assured.
2 Brian McEniff
Here’s a quote from former Donegal player Paul McGettigan on Brian McEniff: “Brian was a colossus in Donegal football because he was forward thinking. He would have united the clubs in Donegal, who at that point would have been killing one another, even at county level players wouldn’t pass.” Sometimes Brian’s name goes unmentioned in the wider conversation, and it’s hard to understand why given all he’s achieved. Led Donegal to five Ulster titles (he was player manager when they won their first title in 1972) and their first All-Ireland title in 1992, and he also managed Ulster to a record 12 Railway Cups. Also worth noting is that he took on the Donegal job for a fourth time in 2002 when nobody else wanted it and brought the team to an All-Ireland semi-final. One of the best ever.
3 Joe Kernan
Kernan was the mastermind behind Armagh’s All-Ireland victory in 2002, but he achieved so much more and that’s why he’s so high up the list. The Orchard County also claimed four Ulster titles while he was in charge, and they became the first team since the great Down team of the sixties to win three Anglo Celts in-a-row. It’s sometimes forgotten that he led Armagh to what remains the one and only time they won the Division One title (that being in 2005), and his successes as Crossmaglen boss are also legendary. He took on his native club when they were at an all-time low in 1993 and turned their fortunes around completely, winning three All-Ireland titles with the club before stepping down in 2000. Possibly should’ve won a second All-Ireland title as Armagh boss, but other than that, it’s all gold.
4 Pete McGrath
McGrath’s list in the pantheon of GAA greats has long been assured. Ulster football had been in the doldrums throughout the 70s and 80s, but when he steered Down to the All-Ireland title in 1991 (beating ‘the team that couldn’t be beaten’, Meath, in the final) it gave other teams in the province confidence that they could compete with the very best. That Down team proved they weren’t a one-hit wonder when they won another Sam in 1994, and McGrath stayed on for nearly another decade before stepping aside in 2002. He also led the Down minors to All-Ireland glory in 1987, and it’d be remiss not to mention his accomplishments at school level as well: with Ray Morgan he led St Colman’s to four Hogan Cups and six MacRory Cups between 1978 and 1998.
5 Jim McGuinness
It’s almost impossible to overstate the impact that Jimmy McGuinness had as Donegal manager during his four years in charge between 2011 and 2014. They seemed to be going nowhere fast when he took the job, but he transformed them into the meanest yet most tactically aware team in the business. It’s worth reminding ourselves of their run to All-Ireland glory in 2012: they began with a preliminary round victory over Cavan before claiming victories over Derry, Tyrone, Down, Kerry, Cork and finally Mayo. He’s also the only manager who managed to engineer a championship victory over a Jim Gavin-led Dublin side. Their semi-final victory over Dublin in 2014 was possibly his finest hour, although they couldn’t replicate that performance in the final.
6 Hughie O’Reilly
O’Reilly probably doesn’t have the same name recognition as some of the names on the list – at least outside Cavan – but the impact he had in his time was truly awesome. Led Cavan to three All-Ireland titles, and between playing, training and managing he was involved in five All-Ireland triumphs. He also shaped his native Cootehill into a force as they won three consecutive senior Championships from 1953, and their club grounds are named after him. O’Reilly was a real pioneer of the game and drew up 28 rules for playing. Even today some of his tips stand up to scrutiny – ‘backs mark closely, but at the same time dominate play’, ‘move into position for pass’ and so on.
7 Eamonn Coleman
Aside from John Hume, has there been a more well-loved Derry man? The affection in which Eamonn Coleman is held by his former players is obvious (Fergal McCusker, for one, is quoted as saying “The Derry team would not have been brought together without his skills. He stitched a bunch of guys together and we would have gone through brick walls. We’d have done anything for him. He was the man that inspired you to go that extra yard”) and his removal from the managerial post in 1994 remains a great source of controversy to this day. Led Derry to their sole All-Ireland title in 1993, an All-Ireland minor title in 1983, a national league title in 1992 and also managed Cavan club Gowna to five senior championship titles. A real one-off, he had no airs or graces but had a brilliant football mind.
8 Barney Carr
A member of the famous Carr clan in Down, Barney managed his county to back-to-back All-Ireland wins in 1960 and 1961. There wasn’t really a cult of personality surrounding managers back then, but he’s still a legend in Down GAA circles, and justifiably so. The Warrenpoint man played for Down in the 30s and 40s before moving into administration and management. The All-Ireland winning Down teams were real trail-blazers, and although Maurice Hayes is usually mentioned as the man with the vision to make it happen, their team manager Barney Carr also played a massive role. Gerry Brown, a real tactical genius, is also deserving of a mention as he managed the team to their 1968 success.
9 Art McRory
‘How great thou Art’ read the chapter title in Jerome Quinn’s book ‘Ulster Football and Hurling: The Path of Champions.” The Dungannon man led Tyrone on-and-off for 20 years and achieved much during that time. Tyrone reached the All-Ireland final for the first time in their history during his tenure (1986) and they were desperately unfortunate not to get over the line in 1995. Led the county to their first Division One title in 2002. It’s also worth noting that his success started from the bottom up: he embarked on a coaching course in County Louth in 1964 and became a central part of the management team which helped the Tyrone minor football team win Ulster minor titles in 1971, 1973, 1975 and 1976.
10 Mickey Moran
MORAN would be forgiven for putting the feet up as he’s now in his late sixties, but he remains one of the best coaches anywhere in Ireland. Got the best out of an hitherto underachieving Sleacht Neill team, leading the Derry side to two All-Ireland final appearances, and he also got Kilcoo over the line in last year’s Ulster final. They brought Corofin, probably the best club team of all time, to extra-time in the All-Ireland decision. His coaching ability is second-to-none but he’s more than just a cerebral type – Kilcoo star Conor Laverty says they “would die for him”. He’s also had plenty of other success down through the decades between coaching Derry to the Sam Maguire, managing Mayo to an All-Ireland final berth in 2006 and engineering Jordanstown’s Sigerson Cup success in 2008 with Adrian McGuckin.