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John O’Mahony and Michael Solan – master and apprentice

Sport

IF THE CAP FITS Mayo manager Michael Solan is pictured at the recent Connacht U-21 FC Final in Sligo. Pic: Sportsfile

John O’Mahony knows Mayo’s under-21 manager better than most

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Mike Finnerty

BACK in 1989 when John O’Mahony was the manager of the Mayo senior football team, he’d often leave home in Ballaghaderreen for training in Castlebar with two young helpers in tow.
Two neighbour’s children who’d go along for the spin, fill water bottles for Willie Joe Padden and Liam McHale and the Mayo lads, and round up footballs from behind the goals.
The names of Johnno’s little helpers?
Michael and Barry Solan.
O’Mahony couldn’t help but smile last week as he told that story, and traced their journey from starstruck young boys to ambitious and successful men in their own chosen fields.
As somebody who coached Mayo to an All-Ireland under-21 title in 1983 at the age of 30, Johnno is well-placed to put Michael Solan’s recent managerial achievement into context.
Plus, Solan is a former pupil of O’Mahony’s at St Nathy’s College in Ballagh’ and also played on a school team he managed to win an All-Ireland Senior ‘B’ colleges title in 2000.
In layman’s terms, the master knows the apprentice well.
“I’ve known Michael’s parents, Teddy and Ann, for years. I was in Nathy’s with Teddy,” O’Mahony told us last week.
“Michael is a fantastic guy, really genuine. He’s understated, for the most part, and wears his love of the GAA on his sleeve. The GAA is his hobby and his passion.
“He’s a nice guy, but at the same time he wouldn’t have progressed to this stage of management without having an edge.
“It’s great to see that there are opportunities in management at inter-county level for genuine guys like him.”
Michael Solan, the footballer, was a neat and stylish half-forward who won two Mayo senior championship medals with Ballagh’ in 2008 and 2012.
Injury brought the curtain down early on his playing career a couple of years ago, but he still retired with a plethora of great memories from both his club and colleges career.
“Michael was a fine footballer,” offered O’Mahony, who also worked with him at close quarters at underage level with Ballagh’.
“He was a manager’s dream really. Whatever plan you laid out, or whatever role you wanted him to play, he’d follow it to the letter of the law.  He’d put great trust in what the manager wanted to do.
“Michael was a guy that would always take responsibility for making sure that the plan on the day was executed to the best of his ability. He’d always be positive, always try to help the team.”
In another uncanny parallel with O’Mahony’s chosen career as a secondary school teacher, Solan also now works as a teacher in Ballaghaderreen.
Having completed his studies in Health and Leisure at Tralee IT, Solan went on to qualify as a primary school teacher.
O’Mahony believes it’s an occupation that complements football management, especially when it comes to the art of communication.
“I always found it to be a help in terms of being able to relate to and communicate with players.
“I liked what I saw and heard from Michael after the Roscommon match too. He doesn’t do ego. It was all about the players, the team, the effort that the group put in.
“Michael is in the formative stages of his career and that Connacht title is a huge fillip for him,” added the man who led Galway to two All-Ireland senior titles.
“Michael had a year as Ballaghaderreen manager too and also worked with Niall Heffernan as a Mayo under-21 selector, so he’s been gathering a lot of experience since he stopped playing.”

IT won’t come as a big surprise to hear that John O’Mahony was among the crowd at the recent Connacht under-21 final at Markievicz Park in Sligo.
With Michael Solan and John Ginty from Ballagh’ on the sideline with Mayo, plus a few local lads in the squad, O’Mahony was there to show his support for his clubmen as well as his county.
He made some very interesting observations.
“In many ways, it was the most amazing game I was ever at,” he laughed.
“It looked early on like Roscommon would over-run Mayo but they never put them away, and Mayo hung on in there.
“Watching on from the stand, I felt after half-time that there was a change in direction. But that didn’t just happen, that came from instructions from management.
“At the moment, Michael, John [Ginty] and Joe [Keane] are probably going through the phases of trying to knit a very tight defensive game with a positive attacking philosophy.
“Against Roscommon, in the first half that balance just wasn’t right and that affected Mayo’s attacking threat.
 “But that whole experience will bring everybody on, players and management. It’s a great development step for the entire group,” added O’Mahony.
“Playing Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final is a great opportunity for everybody to test themselves without being overawed by it.
“I was very taken by Michael’s comments after the match. “It’s about progress in the competition, the next game, there’s no getting caught up in razzmatazz or sideshows.
“Looking in from over the fence, as it were, that’s great to see. I take great pride in seeing Michael approach things like that, from a personal perspective.”
Later that Saturday night, O’Mahony found himself in Solan’s bar in Ballaghaderreen along with some of Mayo’s management team and players.
Twenty-seven years on from celebrating his own Connacht Final managerial success over Roscommon in Ballagh’, the wheel had turned full circle.
“You had Roscommon supporters in there for their Saturday night pint and all the Mayo gang in there celebrating in the middle of them,” recalled O’Mahony.
“It was all good-natured, and great to see. For Teddy and Ann to be there with Michael was great.
“And John Ginty too, Michael and John would be like ‘blood brothers’ really. They’re great friends since school, not that that wouldn’t mean they don’t argue the toss. They’re both strong characters.
“ And Joe Keane is very experienced as a player and a manager with Crossmolina as well, so it’s a very balanced combination. It’s working well so far.”
Long may it continue.