Clan na Gael manager Mark McCann. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
Mark McCann’s first full season in management could hardly have gone much better.
Appointed midway through the 2016 season, where he helped Clan na Gael to the senior league, McCann has comfortably overseen Division One survival and progression to the Intermediate Football Championship final.
His last match for the Ecco Road club was the 2011 Intermediate decider defeat to the O’Raghallaigh’s, before injury cut short his career, preventing him from facing the O’Connell’s in the 2012 final.
While he long harboured hopes of managing his home club, he admits the opportunity has come much sooner than he envisaged it.
“If I’m being honest, I always wanted to manage the Clans, but maybe not as early as I have, he told the Dundalk Democrat.
“I’m not going to say anything different, I found it hard at the start. It’s always difficult to manage your own club, but particularly if you’re managing fellas you played with.
“You take everything that happens to heart. Especially when it came to dropping the likes of Paul Gore and Stephen Fitzpatrick and fellas like that for different games. But, you just have to be fair to everyone.
“I’ve got a lot of help from different people, though. Val (Andrews) has been my advisor. He overlooks me and he’s not afraid to tell me if something is wrong, but he generally gives me free reign to do my own thing.
“He’s a great voice to have behind me and with him and Niall (O’Donnell), their experience has been key. But most of the credit must go to the players who have been together for so long at this stage, continually showing the mental strength to come back time after time.
“They’re doing it for the club because the Clans are crying out to get back senior. 2006 is a long time ago,” McCann said.
Along with dealing with the players, McCann has had to deal with the weighty expectation levels which come with managing the Clans.
“We would have never thought that we’d be outside the senior grade for so long,” added McCann.
“We had a lot of talent coming through at the time we were relegated, but we lost a lot of the championship winners. The likes of the O’Hanlons, the Stauntons, Gerry Curran, Niall O’Donnell. All these lads stopped playinggg and we were left with a very young team and such an early stage.
“I was nearly left as one of the older lads at 25/26 so you could say that we were left in the shadows of the great teams.
“But this ‘pressure’ that we talk about, it means nothing to Robbie Curran or Donal Boyle or any of the other younger lads.
“We have an appetite to win the championship ourselves, it has nothing to do with living in the shadows of the great teams for most of the panel.
“Losing to the Brides earlier in the championship, that was during ‘the dreaded dip’ as we call it in the Clans. We had a mini pre-season in June and July to try and avoid it, which didn’t work, but we have pushed on ahead and like last year, where we had a very strong finish to the season, we are finishing very strong.
“Playing in Division One has fitted us well this year. Up there, you have a lot more time on the ball whereas Division Two is a tough, tough league. The games are fast and hard down there and you can’t afford to drop points because a couple of years ago we only lost once and that cost us the title.
“Instead of having that pressure to win every week, we set ourselves the target of 10 points and we ended up getting nine which we were happy with. Evidently the standard is higher and your mistakes are punished more, but it has suited us to be playing in Division One,” he said.