STEPHEN Rochford’s destiny was decided the night he lost that vote to become manager of the Mayo U-21 squad.
That decision was the driving force that landed him the seminal post in Corofin three years ago, where his managerial potential in leading the Galway champions to an All-Ireland title blossomed.
Alert Corofin officials were first to recognise those budding qualities. In winning five Mayo senior championships and an All-Ireland club title with his native Crossmolina, Rochford had amassed vital experience that would stand to him in pursuing his managerial ambition.
His apprenticeship, after retiring from football, included a role as assistant to Crossmolina manager John Maughan, managing Ballinrobe to a Mayo under-21 ‘B’ title as well as involvement with underage and GMIT college teams, impressing players with his approach.
After Corofin’s victory in the All-Ireland final last March, their experienced defender Kieran Fitzgerald said Rochford’s attention to detail had been so great that every angle and possible eventuality was covered.
“He’s a cool customer. He doesn’t get too excited. We were as prepared as I ever saw a team prepared,” said the former Galway star.
The new Mayo boss will need all of those attributes in his bid to succeed where so many before him have failed. His ambition may have been realised much sooner than he had envisaged, but he has embraced the opportunity with confidence and optimism.
Asked at a health and wellbeing seminar in Westport, before being appointed, what he might bring to the post, the 37-years-old bank official said Mayo had been banging on the door over the last number of years.
“I think we’re very, very close, and been unfortunate on a couple of occasions, maybe, not to get across the line. I’m looking to bring a freshness and an energy that I feel I’m capable of,” he told the interviewer.
“There’s a great bunch of lads there. There will be new faces, I’m sure, coming in. But I think there’s still good days ahead for Mayo GAA, and if I’m lucky enough to take up the position, we’ll do all in our endeavour to get them across the line in 2016.”
It won’t be all plain sailing for the Castlerea-based bank manager. But it is how he deals with problems, what leadership he brings from the sideline, his ability to spot the danger signals, to find instant solutions to ever changing complexities, that he will be judged.
Had he been allowed take up the post earlier he might by now have been well on the way with his preparations. A month before Mayo’s opening game of the New Year training programmes have to be drawn up, trials undertaken and his back-room team put in place.
None of the Castlebar Mitchels or the Hollymount/Carramore players – and a good many of them must be in his plans – will be available to him for at least some Allianz League matches while they prepare for their All-Ireland semi-final joust with Crossmaglen.
But before all that comes the settling-in period where trust is established as the new boss reaches out to his players, gets to know them, to discuss with them and iron out things that might otherwise run counter to their respective views.
Motivation is unlikely to be a problem. The events that have led to the appointment of the new manager are self-spurring. Sentiment for their cause may not be so strong in the light of their objections to the previous management. The eyes of the country will be on them, some waiting for the crash they hope will be the outcome of that protest.The players have left little margin for error. Stops-out determination to get over that elusive line will characterise their preparation. Whether they can meet what victory demands remains to be seen.
Stephen Rochford is facing an unenviable task. In assuming the role of manager at a critical juncture in Mayo’s quest for glory, he brings to the post heartening qualities of leadership.
He deserves our full support.
Much to ponder over our winter break
THUS falls the curtain on our column. A season preserved in the memory for what happened off the field of play as much as on it. A season that hummed once more with hope through a raging summer of success, and ended in the autumn with brooding thoughts of another near miss.
A fifth successive Connacht title is justification for special celebration; the first time the Nestor Cup was hived into the Connacht air five years in a row, a triumph obscured somewhat, however, by the failure to go all the way.
Still, there was much to admire in Mayo’s performances throughout the season, performances that earned All-Star awards for Lee Keegan and Aidan O’Shea, a bucketful of admiration for their roles in Ireland’s victory over Australia; and the Young Player of the Year award won by Diarmuid O’Connor.
Our club teams underlined Mayo’s eminence in the province – Ardnaree defeating Clifden in the junior final, Hollymount/Carramore accounting for Moycullen in the intermediate, and Castlebar’s magnificent victory over all-Ireland champions Corofin at senior level.
What the future holds for our game is in the hands of our county representatives at headquarters. Proposals to change the format of the senior championship beyond provincial level are being given serious consideration.
Efforts are also under way to reduce the eligible age for minor football to under-17 and to abolish the under-21 competitions in the interests of player safety. Injury and burnout among young players is a cause for concern. But to scrap the under-21 championship, a shop window for senior managers, may not be the answer.
There’s a proposal to experiment again with the ‘mark’ as practised in the International Rules series between Ireland and Australia. A reduced version was introduced some years ago without causing any great stir before being dropped.
It would award high fielders between the two 45’ lines a free kick. It would also, of course, reduce greatly any benefit derived from short kick-outs.
None of those proposals, if passed by Congress, is likely to be introduced in the competitions before 2017. But at high level there is a desire to shake up stale competitions that they claim are not progressing with the time.
We conclude with the wish that all of you have a joyful Christmas and a New Year full of cheer and good fortune.
Best wishes, Willie
WE send our best wishes to former Mayo star Willie McGee, who is recovering from an illness in hospital.
Best known for his four-goal spree in Mayo’s defeat of Kerry in the All-Ireland Under-21 final replay of 1967, Willie also won a Connacht Senior Football Championship medal with Mayo in 1969 and a National League in 1970. He was also a member of the Connacht team that won the Railway Cup in 1969.
Still staunchly supporting Mayo football in many capacities, Willie has been at the helm of fund-raising events for the cause. Next Saturday the Christmas outing, which he normally organises, of the Green and Red Golf Society is being held in Mulranny.