We recently spoke with Dublin Ladies Senior Football manager Mick Bohan about the impact of the pandemic from a leadership perspective and how he and his staff have managed the team effectively while social distancing.
What has been the impact of Covid-19 on you personally and professionally?
I’m a secondary school teacher so we shut down quite quickly and the whole structure for me was taken away from that point of view. I typically teach PE, Irish and French but I’m only teaching PE this year due to a shortage in the school.
Before, my time was split between teaching and coaching in the evenings with the Dublin team, kid’s teams or coaching courses for the County board. All of that stopped immediately. That was a huge change in my life and it took quite a while to come to terms with it.
When did you first become aware that the League campaign and possibly the All-Ireland Championships would be postponed or delayed?
We were due to travel to Donegal for a match and that Friday it was announced the league campaign wouldn’t continue so we found out pretty quickly that it wouldn’t be completed.
There were three League games left. We weren’t really in a great position to qualify for the finals to be honest, but we were hoping to finish off the campaign well. We found out quickly though, so I suppose that was good in order to get your head around the situation.
Were there any contingency plans put in place by the management team once it became apparent that the season would be curtailed?
There were unforeseen circumstances – if you draw a game you have contingency plans for a replay, a change in venue, different tactical setups etc. None of us had been through something like this before. From that point of view, you were putting plans in place on a daily and weekly basis.
We spent the first 5-6 weeks on our game plan’s online, giving player’s feedback on their own performances and things they needed to improve on. As COVID went on football went out the window and the concerns were for the players. We gave them time away completely for four weeks. We’re only really back around two weeks.
How have you kept the team engaged and motivated during this time off?
Initially, we broke up the week for them – one conditioning session, an injury prevention class via Zoom which was mainly done using bodyweight as some people don’t have equipment at home.
There are some players who cannot stop – it is just something they crave in terms of structure. There are others who struggled with their new “structure” and needed to have that time away, so we started to learn about that quite quickly. As a result, we had to adjust.
Managing a large group of people can be challenging at the best of times. What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in terms of managing the players during this period?
Probably reading them. There are 53 people involved in our group between players, management, backroom staff, medical team, nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches and psychologists.
There is a lot you can tell by body language or mood when you’re with the group – there are so many different things. Different coaches have a small group of players under their guidance, but it becomes impossible when you only get to see them through a Zoom call. We checked in with them once a week to see how they were, but it was quite challenging.
This is your second stint as Dublin Ladies Senior Football Manager. Has your management style changed much from your first term and if so, how?
Over 17 years? Without a doubt! I’ve changed quite a lot over that time. Back then I was trying to do everything myself which isn’t possible. Now, what I try to do is bring in different people who are good at certain things to help.
I’ve given a lot more work to people around me who are way better equipped to do it than I am, and that’s probably something I wouldn’t have been as confident to do a long time ago. Now I have no issues in handing things over – the best people for the job should be the ones doing it.
Has your man-management of the players changed at all during this period compared to what it was like pre-COVID? If so, will it remain like that?
I was speaking to some of the senior players a few weeks back and one thing we discussed was how much more we would appreciate it when we go back. From my point of view, it made me realise that I might not get the opportunity to coach the team for a long time.
What changed over this period was as a management team was that our thoughts completely left a competitive environment and football just became irrelevant. You begin to appreciate it a lot more and slow down to take stock of where you’re at – I think we’ve all done a bit of that.
Away from the pitch and during periods of the year where the team are not playing together, do you or your management team do anything, in particular, to ensure that the team spirit remains strong?
In the last few years, we have started with the team in November and, having been in three All-Ireland finals, the season didn’t finish for us until the third week in September. Those other eight weeks we would be fundraising, reaching out for support, visiting schools and hospitals.
There would be socialising within the team as well. We have a weekend away every year, we have been skiing in Andorra and Cyprus, so that time together really makes the Group close. It becomes so much more than a game of football.
Is there anyone who you take inspiration from or look up to, either from the world of sport or elsewhere, that has shaped your management and leadership skills?
I’ve been particularly lucky in my career to work in DCU with Sigerson Cup teams. Niall Moyna who people would know from Operation Transformation. I’ve worked with Jim Gavin in the under-21’s and the Seniors. I’ve worked with Gerry McCall at underage football.
Clare and Colm Collins. John Morrison from Armagh who passed away last year. There are also people like Kieran McGeeney, Dessie Farrell, Noel McCaffrey.
Even in the last few months with webinars from people like Stuart Lancaster, Donncha O’Callaghan. There’s just so many people who are willing to share their experiences and things that worked for them.
The LGFA, GAA and the Camogie Association recently published a plan with guidelines for a safe return. Does it excite you to have potential return dates for training and matches to work towards?
We’re delighted. It’s very different this year obviously – we’re looking at October and possibly finishing at the end of November if we successful and get to that stage. It’s a new challenge and it’s a new opportunity to try something we’ve never done before.
We’ve had different goals over the years – first, it was to win back-to-back All Ireland’s, then it was three in a row on the same weekend that the men’s team won five in a row. No one has ever won an All-Ireland final in November so it’s something new to strive for.
Is there anything positive that you can take from this time off, whether it be something you have learnt about yourself, your management team or your players?
There were people in our set up who really showed their good nature during this time. Our kit man, for example, works for a fruit company and delivered fruit hampers to 52 members of the group. The team camaraderie really came to the fore.
On a personal level, I would say time for reflection. We all live in a world that goes very fast and there are times you’re concerned about irrelevant things. Ultimately the most important thing is our families and those close to you. As a nation, I thought we dealt with it really well and that was something to be proud of.