'There is a little bit of a bond there... it's like a parent and a child'

GAA interview

Last October, Terry and Kathleen Hyland’s daughter, Lauren, gave birth to their seventh grandchild, Kassie, in Canada and the pair decided to fly to Vancouver to welcome the new arrival.

The idea of taking a fortnight away in the autumn would have been unthinkable normally. Football would have dictated as much. While he loved and still loves the buzz of football management, it was nice, Hyland says now, to have some time for himself.

In the 30 years since he got involved on the sideline, 2022 is just his third as a ‘civilian’.

“They are the type of sacrifices that everybody who is involved in football, not just management, make, that people probably don’t see. Everybody loses out on all those things. People just take for granted that they could decide to go somewhere next weekend - when you’re involved in inter-county football, the decision is really taken away from you,” he says.

“When you’re in football management at inter-county level, between it and work you’re probably clocking in around a 70-hour week, especially when you’re in competition.”

The first team he led to success was the Cavan Masters in the mid-1990s. By then, he was already his own boss, having set out in business with Hyland Hardware a few years earlier. In the intervening period, the roles have gone hand in hand.

Managing people is a most important skill, he feels, in both games.

“Business is business, I suppose, no matter what you apply it to. The basic principles are the same, you have to learn man management and how to manage people in both. I would think that is the greatest challenge or skill needed for all managers now, maybe moreso than actual drills and set-ups and all that sort of stuff.

“Life is difficult and it’s so hard to keep people involved and interested. Everybody has their own little individual problems, they may seem trivial to management but they’re major to a player. You have to help them out with whatever they need help with and a lot of the time it’s away from the football field.

“It depends on where they’re at, third level college, exams, if they’re looking for work you are trying to put them in contact with people who are hiring. We’re not naïve to believe that inter-county Gaelic footballers are not open to all the ills that are out there in the world as well, let that be gambling, alcohol, whatever it is.

“You have to help them out there as well. Sometimes they might find it easier to chat to a member of management than they would outside.

“There is a little bit of a bond there. I say it’s like when a child is sent to primary school, the teacher becomes the next parent for that period and when a young fella walks in to an inter-county panel, the manager becomes like his next parent as well.

“That’s the guy he’s going to be dealing with for 25 hours a week and maybe will see more than he sees his own parents.”

That fatherly approach created friendships with players. Footballers he managed 10 years ago still call him now and then and he gets a great kick out of that part of it.

The game has moved on since he first put on the bainisteoir bib but the fundamentals remain the same.

“Young people are still young people and perhaps it’s their parents that have changed more… Perhaps we live in a society now where it’s so easy to get what you want. If you buy something and don’t like it, you go out and buy something different.

“Sometimes players will throw a bit of a huff, they’re taken off or they’re not getting started, and instead of coming and having a chat, they will pull a little bit against the grain. You have to see then, ‘well, how can I bring this guy back in again?’. Some need an arm round them, some need a slap at the back of the ear.

“The generation growing up now is a product of their parents, if their parents say they’re not playing because the manager or a selector doesn’t like them, I’m talking maybe at underage level, sometimes that can seep into their psyche as they grow older. They can say ‘it’s actually not me, it’s somebody else’s fault’. Modern society is a little bit that way.”

When he looks back on his time with Cavan, there is some regret not to have won an Ulster Championship but by any measure, considering were they came from, his stint at U21 and senior level was a resounding success. Cavan came from rock bottom in both grades to competing with the best.

“I enjoyed every minute of it, I enjoyed working with the young people at the time because we did get them when they were very young. Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt, we would have had fellas from they were 18, 19 and 20 and right through to their mid-20s.

“Perhaps if we had come at a different stage in their lives and got them at 27, 28, 29, we could have enjoyed a different type of success. But we put in a foundation which was very strong at the time. Cavan built on that foundation and we have had a reasonably good last 10 years.

“I suppose we are probably back to looking at the foundation again. It’s the old story, you’ve got to keep the conveyor belt moving and you’ve got to keep changing it up all the time.

“You can’t assume that you’ve got there and I think that’s probably the secret to the most successful teams, they keep working on the conveyor belt all the time.”

Terry Hyland during his time with Leitrim.

Then came Leitrim. Hyland has always worked with a similar profile – country teams, players who want to work hard, not “the glamorous jobs” as he says himself – and Leitrim seemed like a good fit. And the challenge attracted him, too.

“I always wanted to get involved with people who wanted to improve. And it was the same when we moved to Leitrim, we got involved with a bunch of guys who wanted to improve.

“It was probably a little bit about redemption too, was I capable of getting involved in a team and repeating a process? It was an interesting experiment from my side to see could we do that.

“That was part of the challenge on my side and Leitrim’s challenge was they hadn’t been promoted in so long. They felt they had a group of players capable of doing that and we put together a management team and it gelled well and we got that promotion the first year.”

That long-awaited promotion was built on a brave approach. On occasion, players voiced their concern that they were not doing enough fitness work but Hyland and his management team had taken the decision to focus on skills and it paid off; they cut out handling errors and reduced turnovers and played their way out of the division.

Then, Covid intervened and messed everything up; a two-point loss to Tipperary, Munster champions a few weeks later, saw them slip back down but he left them in a better place.

This Sunday

Both Hyland’s former sides go at it on Sunday in Carrick On Shannon, with Cavan buoyed by promise shown in the McKenna Cup.

“I felt we were very unlucky not to get a draw against Armagh, I’d probably take more out of that performance than the Tyrone one. Some of the guys are playing quite well. If the Jasons and Gearoids and Gerry Smiths and Padraig Faulkners all perform (Cavan will do well)… but I would worry slightly about our forwards.

“In Division 4, you have heavier pitches, all that sort of stuff. If Cavan play to their potential, they should walk through Division 4, they shouldn’t really be in it. We saw that with the likes of Derry and Cork before.

“But psychologically they have to get their heads right. As footballers, they should be fit for everybody in Division 4 but they have to make sure they’re not dragged into dogfights, they still have to go out and perform.”

This is a talented Leitrim team, Hyland says.

“At least two and maybe three of the forwards would walk on to Cavan’s first 15 which is saying a lot. I don’t want to sound patronising towards Leitrim, the strength in depth of the panel might not be as strong as Cavan’s moreso than the first 15.

“Leitrim won’t lack for heart and wanting to put in a performance in front of their own crowd, especially against Cavan. They went quite well in recent challenge matches against Mayo and Roscommon but what can you read into challenge matches? The real competition begins next Sunday.”