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Where are all our leaders gone?

Where are all our leaders gone? Have they gone into sports management and left our business, public and political sectors rudderless? Two years ago I attended the Philips Sports Manager of the year awards in Dublin. It had been a golden year across all sports. But the recession was really beginning to bite and we were all beginning to realise, it could be really bad. I sat with a group of businesspeople and we were all admitting to being fairly shell shocked at the rapidity of the downturn and were all wondering out-loud where the ‘plan’ to get us out of the mess was.

Focus and passion

We were a fairly despondent bunch at the start of the night. But then one by one, about 12 or so of the great managers covering every sport were briefly interviewed on stage – in the 3 or 4 minutes they got they showed clarity of thought, focus and passion and everyone in the room knew that they were giving all for their chosen codes. It was inspiring.

More recently, I was at an event where the great cyclist Stephen Roche was speaking. He told of the responsibility he and the likes of Sean Kelly and Barry McGuigan felt to do their bit to raise the spirits of a country in that very bad economic time, the 80s. And again at our table that evening we discussed the impact of sport and we remembered how we were buoyed by  Northern Ireland’s great win over Spain and Jack’s Lads great adventures in World Cups and European Championships. They made us feel confident and showed that we could take on the world.


On Thursday night I again experienced ‘leadership’ at first hand – not from a politician or a powerful CEO – but from 2 sporting legends. Football legend Billy Morgan won everything as a player and a manger. As a manager he helped transform a sport that was suffering for poor administration and a lack of self belief. Donal O Grady took over a Cork hurling team in 2003 who had striked and fought a very heart wrenching campaign for better conditions. Within a year he led this team to an All Ireland win.

Both men spoke of belief, of giving everything for the team, of respect…they also talked about having a mission, about planning and attention to detail.  Like Stephen Roche and Barry mcGuigan and Munster and Ulster rugby…in fact all sports, these guys had bad days…really really bad days, but they came back..they looked forward and they dreamed, yes, but they also planned for the good days. True leaders.

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