Accidental manager Maughan still going strong 32 years later
By John Harrington
When it comes to the current roster of inter-county football managers, John Maughan is the Daddy of them all.
He first started out on the circuit with the Clare footballers in 1990, and since then has had stints managing his native Mayo (twice), Fermanagh, Roscommon, and now Offaly.
That’s a serious commitment over a long period of time, especially when you consider he fell into management with the Clare footballers by accident rather than design when a bad knee injury ended his own playing career early.
“It was (an accident),” admits Maughan. “There's no question about it. When I got injured, I ended up managing army football teams. I was in the army at the time. I came home from Custume Barracks, Athlone and my wife said to me, 'There's someone in Clare looking for you to come down and coach the team.'
“I went down to Sullivan's Hotel in Gort and I met a couple of men from Clare. They wanted me to coach the team. I asked, 'Well who's going to be the manager?' They hadn't decided at the time. So I was cocky enough to say, 'Sure I'll do that as well.'
“Guys I worked with said, 'What in the name of Jaysus, Maughan, are you doing going down to Clare? What are you at?'
“The first night I went down to training in Crusheen there was only 11. It was pretty desperate. In the B (All-Ireland) championship they only had 15 players playing against Sligo. Someone got injured and they had no replacement. Different era, you could train them hard and get them fit. There's a little bit more science around now.
“Accidental (manager) in that regard insofar as if I hadn't got injured I probably wouldn't have been managing army teams.
“Noel Walsh was a colonel down in Renmore Barracks in Galway who was based in Costume Barrack Athlone. I said I better ring this senior office and let him know that I'm going to be managing his county. It was news to him. His words were, 'I hope you're fit for it.' So, in other words, 'I doubt you, Maughan!'"
Maughan’s longevity as a manager is surely due to the fact that deep down he has unfinished business with the game because his own playing career was ended prematurely by that knee injury.
A powerful centre-back, he can’t help but feel if he was there in 1989 to anchor the Mayo defence they might well have beaten Cork in an All-Ireland Final they narrowly lost.
What hurts most though is that the career-ending knee injury wasn’t all that serious, it was the surgery he underwent to fix it that ended up doing the most damage.
“It broke my heart having to give up football. I loved it. I embraced it, I was one of those fanatical guys training twice a day and all that mad stuff. But I loved it and unfortunately one day I went for this operation at 25 and it brought closure.
“I went for a routine cartilage operation. Unfortunately, I got a lot of post-op infections. John O'Mahony was managing Mayo and we played Longford in a challenge game on a Tuesday night. I said, 'I'd better get this thing fixed now before championship' and that finished me.
“I was 25 when I got injured. I was so desperate I ended up meeting a Swedish surgeon out in Lebanon by chance.
“I was hardly able to walk at the time. I was banjaxed. He said he (worked with) all the skiers in Sweden, it was his area of expertise.
“He said, 'Yes, I will fix you.' So I said, 'Yeah, you’re my man. C'mon I'll have surgery with you as well.' Pretty desperate stuff.
“I was in the Leb on duty. I just went down for a weekend job. A 60-hour pass, had a bit of open surgery. There was no keyhole surgeries back in those days.”
His first managerial job with Clare came out of the blue and the stints with Fermanagh and Roscommon were somewhat unexpected tours of duty, but his current role with Offaly is arguably his most unlikeliest yet.
You ask him how it all came about and he’s not even quite sure himself.
“I don't know, I had no intention of getting involved in inter-county football after the last effort with Roscommon,” says Maughan with his usual frankness.
“I was out of the scene and coaching locally with Castlebar Mitchels underage and I had no intention of getting involved. In fact, when I got a call from Offaly I rebutted the conversation. I said absolutely no way.
“When I sat down for the interview I just found my mouth saying 'yes', even though my head was saying 'no'. An hour and a half later I was saying to myself, 'What in the name of God am I doing here?'
“I wish I had sat in the car and driven up to Kilcormac to really understand the difficulty of the drive because it's two hours 15 minutes each way and it's normally an eight-hour flip-around. It's tough. Even though Covid season kind of impacted a little on that, the seasons weren't long, but it's tough.
“I have to say inter-county management has changed since 1990. That time I was nearly driving the bus down in Clare. And you wouldn't dare let anybody book a hotel because they mightn't get the most luxurious one back in those days. There has been a seismic shift.
“The backroom staff now, managing them as well as the team can be a challenge in itself because there's strength and conditioning and GPS tracking devices and video analysis and all of that that comes with it. Coaching, goal-keeping coaches...we had none of that back in the day. There's been a huge shift and I don't know if it's all been for the better or not. I'm not quite sure.
“The game has changed fundamentally. The talk now is about goalkeepers. The new scene with goalkeepers. But, for me, personally, it's a privilege to be involved. I'm just recently retired from work so I probably will have a bit more time. But I don't know will I stay at it too much longer, to be honest, because it's hard going.
“Driving is tough. When I started off with Clare I was newly married and I was living in Galway city and commuting from Custume Barracks in Athlone and I thought nothing about a Tuesday night or Thursday night heading down to Crusheen or West Clare and the same again at the weekend. But you're young at that time and sitting in a car for four or five hours wasn't an issue. It is now.
“When the chassis begins to warp a little bit, it's a little bit more difficult. Nonetheless it kind of keeps you young. It's exciting in a way and coming back to Croke Park on Sunday, I'm looking forward to it.”