BOTH SIDES OF THE LINE
One of the characteristics of a good leader is not asking someone to do something you would not be prepared to do yourself. Other important characteristics are to inspire and build up relationships where people will want to follow you. Leaders also need to be able to delegate responsibilities to those they can trust.
This is pretty much the way Faughanvale’s management team works. As a fellow player Gray is in the trenches with them during the hour and never shirks responsibility. He has a proven track record of pulling Faughanvale out of countless battles over the years. This is where the inspiration comes from. Then once the ball is thrown in he trusts Shay Murrin and Michael McLaughlin to steer the ship – that’s the delegation part of Joe’s leadership.
Another member of that management team is Ryan King who battled his way back into it after a serious injury and was determined to chip in with any contribution he could offer to turn things around. These four men are the heartbeat of the new look Faughanvale and on Sunday two will be in the dugout and two will be on the battlefield.
Last Friday night Shay Murrin wasn’t on press duties, he was away organising training, he now lives in Faughanvale but is a native of Killybegs where he led his club to the 2013 county final. This is the type of man Joe Gray was thinking about when he was assembling his backroom team.
“I’ve got a brilliant management team and I knew before I took the job I needed a real strong management team because when playing a match there is only so much you can see. You have to trust boys on the sideline to make decisions for you and in Shay and Michael [McLaughlin] I have that in abundance.”
Michael McLaughlin is originally from Sean Dolans and currently coaches the St Columb’s McLarnon team. When we caught up with him at the weekend he gave us a tremendous insight into the Faughanvale boss. “I came to speak with Joe Gray at the start of the year and when you speak to a man like him you recognise that, number one he is Faughanvale through and through and secondly he wanted this club driven forward.”
“Myself, Joe and Shay sat in this very room last December and trashed out our plans and it was great as it was three minds well connected. The players didn’t know me or Shay from Adam so it was a case of two fresh faces and three new voices. We started training in Inspire [in Limavady] with the conditioning work. The boys had never started preseason like that so it was different and the boys bought in from the start.”
So what is it like when one of your management colleagues is a player? McLaughlin laughed as he revealed that Gray on a few occasions had to account for his on field performances. "He’s been at the wrong end of the tongue a few times during games and been asked why he’s standing where he is standing but we are very lucky to have a Joe Gray. He is an intelligent footballer and should have been playing county football only for soccer exploits.”
As our conversation develops we learn more about how they are getting the best out of their players. “Me and Shay do the coaching but Joe is the real reason for our success. He is the man carrying the burden telling boys they are starting or not.” However, it is the manner that makes the difference and McLaughlin explains.
“The club are lucky he took this on, people respect him. He is a local hero and he asks you do to something in that mild manner, never aggressive or loud. When he asks you to do something you just do it – that’s the kind of respect people have for him.”
Michael makes it all sound easy but Joe confesses that management is still a tough job. “It’s not easy when you have to drop boys that have been my best mates and played with me all through my career. It is by no means easy but I be honest and tell them what I feel is best for this club and the players have respected that,” adds Gray.
Gray knew that they had to put in a strong foundation at the start to transform their fortunes. “We met at the start of the year and thrashed out all what happened. Everyone had their say, we parked it under the table and said how we were going to make this year better and kept it all positive since.”
“We were never getting ahead of ourselves, the priority was to get back into intermediate football and from day one that was our priority. Once we got promoted we put it to bed and looked at the championship run. Now we are in an Ulster final we’ll give it a go.”
The Ulster series has brought freshness. “There is an enjoyment factor playing teams you don’t usually play as we are used to playing the other teams in Derry. It gives us a chance to get around the various county grounds and a wee trip on the bus and it all adds to the excitement and the occasion. The supporters are also really enjoying the whole experience and they get behind us.”
Looking ahead to Sunday Joe is as excited as everyone else. “I know what it would mean to myself, it would probably be the best achievement of my career. You can always dream and hope. I will never hold the boys back from that, if you don’t have dreams then you have nothing to drive you to win.”
Rockcorry will prove a tough nut to crack and according to Michael McLaughlin they provide pace, acceleration and power. “We saw clips of their county final and they never do anything in 2nd or 3rd gear, they always appear to be in top gear. I know it’s a cliché but you can’t go into a final if you’re not are going to take things right from the off.”
When they gather in the huddle before Sunday’s game the final instructions will be given. The work and planning will all be complete. Ryan King will head to the edge of the square, Gray will take up his familiar position on the ‘40’ with Michael McLaughlin and Shay Murrin heading towards the sideline. It will be almost twelve months since they hatched their plan. Now it is time to go to work. They all know their roles and all trust each other.