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A county holds its breath

Kevin McStay
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A county holds its breath

Kevin McStayKevin McStay

WE got rid of the October/November NFL games some years ago and on paper it should mean we close down for a few months. But with International Rules and Club Championships on the late year menu, it seems to me that one season runs seamlessly into the next.
The All-Ireland is won and before you can blink the draw for the next year is in front of you. A few short weeks later the provincial secretaries meet to plan our sporting year. The calendar is agreed and hey presto, we can start filling in our diaries all over again.
Down Mayo Way we had all those dates before us but had only one item on the agenda: when is the man signing on? The county got their wish and on Monday night John O’Mahony was announced as the new Mayo manager. Like the Carlsberg TV advertisement before him everybody will hope he is, ‘Worth waiting for’.
If the past forty-eight hours is a pointer to the future, then little is likely to be leaked from this particular fortress. The only definite by early evening time was JOM himself. The backroom team was a closely guarded secret and the deadline beat me; comment for another day then.
But in the space of eight January days in early 2007, John O’Mahony will get the chance to parade his new team before us with FBD fixtures against Sligo IT, Roscommon and NUI Galway. It will allow us a peep at his vision for the future but it will only be the opening broad-brush strokes of what we all hope will eventually be his greatest masterpiece.221106_mcstay_200
For Mayo footballers and followers everywhere, there can be no more hiding places. No more convenient excuses about the ability of management teams to steer us across a finishing line. John O’Mahony is a proven All-Ireland winning manager and during his fifteen-year banishment from these shores. He has won three of them (two at senior and one at under 21) to add to an earlier one with his home county.
There is hardly a more knowledgeable man on club or county football in the province of Connaught and this edge will certainly aid a Mayo drive to be the dominant force in the province over his period in charge. His appointment dovetails neatly with the news of retirement plans for Galway’s two greatest players of the modern era. Michael Donnellan is gone and possibly Padraig Joyce will join him shortly. Perhaps they knew JOM was about to jump back in with Mayo and being familiar with his previous work, felt now was a good time to call a halt!
There has been much comment of the political dilemma facing the new manager and it is true he found himself between a rock and a hard place. But all decisions have pros and cons attached and, as mentioned some weeks ago, John tends to make good calls. His decision to walk away this time last year may well be his best one yet.
The time taken to dwell on that decision making process was needed; anybody that has dealings with County Boards, and ours in particular, will know you need to get ALL agreements down on paper if only to help you construct parachute wings later on. Items might include length and security of tenure (is there such a thing in inter county management?), budgets, the club programme (both league and championship, but especially the league!), trips away, discipline, training nights, training locations and panel size. On a personal level he will need to build up a relationship with all the club managers out there to ensure their co-operation.
John has often mentioned the force of momentum needed to win at the highest level – officials, clubs, players, supporters and management must all have the same goal and a commitment to do all in their power to see the project through. We have rarely had that in the recent past but I have no doubt JOM will get this message through via his close relationships and ability with the various media outlets he will interact with.
Much paranoia existed before this announcement; over the weekend I was told (from a reliable source!) that he was about to walk away from the whole gig. The championship draw had pitted Mayo against his most recent home of Galway and he just could not face into this scenario. Indeed. The little fact of his savage competitive nature was overlooked and his complete focus on whatever job is at hand. JOM does not do half measures.
In my own involvement with him over a short period of time –playing for him and managing against him – I found him to be forensic in his approach to event and people management. Little, correction, nothing, is left to chance.
I have a good story from a Connacht U21 final of some years ago and will share it with you in the next week or so. It will tell you a lot about his style. As a coach he has improved with every passing year and his experience is up there with the likes of Mick O’Dwyer and Billy Morgan on the national stage.
His vast experience will be needed in one specific aspect: pundits, players and staff from previous management teams will look very closely at the way he deals with the handful of problem players in the old panel; players that long ago denounced the idea of teamwork and hard work in favour of their own script. They might find the new management is tougher on team ethics. For me, this will be the most interesting angle. 
The county and maybe even the country, expects. But John starts off with the same expectation of those who have gone before him in the last ten years: win Sam or another inquest will result and we know they can be unforgiving. At least he has a ‘No Review’ clause and so the next three years or so will be fun. Jump aboard for the trip of a lifetime.

Weekly Teaser
RULE 1 got an airing last week and I am pleasantly surprised by the mailers who are putting some effort into becoming a more informed audience for the 2007 football season. Well done! The questions are repeated below with the answers in brackets.
(1): Can the ball be lifted off the ground using your knees? (NO – the use of the knees in this manner is strictly prohibited).
(2): Does the ball stay in play if it hits a boundary line flag? (NO – it is deemed out of play as is a ball that is completely over a boundary line).
(3): How many steps can you take in football before you must play the ball? (Four steps allowed in both football and hurling).
(4): Can a player hold up his hands to intercept a free kick? (YES – this is allowed so long as you hold your position and do NOT wave them in a manner designed to put the free taker off).
(5): Can you use your head to play a ball away in the air or on the ground? (ONLY when in the air but NOT on the ground).
(6): Can a goalkeeper move along his line when a penalty is being taken? (YES – but he is NOT allowed to advance off the line until the ball is struck).
Extra-time, under lights perhaps, will become a feature of many football games you will attend over the coming years. With a congested fixture list and a requirement to get a result on the day it is time to brush up on the rules that apply to ET. So, a couple of basic questions to get you thinking over the next few days:
How many minutes in each period of extra time? How many substitutions are you allowed in extra time? Do black and yellow cards carry forward into ET or are they scratched off? Can a player sent off in ordinary time for a double yellow play again in extra time?