Billy Joe Padden
BETWEEN Christmas, flying off to Kuala Lumpur on the team holiday over the New Year, and facing into the FBD League in the first week in January, it’s going to be a pretty hectic holiday season for the Mayo senior football squad.
Plus, they’re going to have to try and fit in the ‘normal stuff’ like spending time with family, meeting up with friends, maybe a night or two out. . And get their gym and running sessions in too.
Whatever about anything else, those ‘sessions’ have to be done!
For a county player these days, there’s never much time to relax or unwind and there certainly won’t be much time to switch off over the next few weeks either. Because they will know what’s coming.
Before the lads know it they’ll be on a bus to Monaghan for the first round of the National League at the end of next month, and being ready for that day can weigh heavily on some players.
Every bite you eat, every drop you drink, every corner you cut, it’s somewhere at the back of your mind.
I know from my own days with Mayo, I was the time of guy who just had to be organised and get the training sessions done. Your family and close friends understand that it’s all part and parcel of being a county player, and it’s important that you stick to your routine.
If you get it right, you even manage a few drinks or a night out along the way.
If you’re training on Stephen’s Day though, Christmas Day can be tricky. I remember we ended up in Belleek Woods one year on December 26 and I spent most of the previous day praying for ‘a big freeze’ in North Mayo!
Of course, the training went ahead and I ended up watching Andy Moran flying around the woods in front of the rest of us. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t be dealing with this!’
In fairness, the prospect of flying off to Malaysia for New Year’s is a nice one for the Mayo players, management and backroom team.
It’s a well-deserved break, and the fact that the players have been so involved in the planning and fund-raising for the team holiday shows, I think, that they want to acknowledge the support staff who work behind the scenes.
This is their way of saying ‘thank you’ to those people for all the work they do, and I think it’s a great idea to bring as many of them on the trip as possible.
But I can see why Stephen Rochford has decided to give the team holiday a miss.
Obviously, with a young family and a busy job it can be difficult to get time away, and I’m not so sure that he’s the kind of manager who wants to be talking football with his players for ten days either.
I think Stephen is the kind of manager who when he’s off, he’s off, and when he’s with the players, he’s there for the football and the coaching.
I can understand why he’s staying at home to get a team ready for the first FBD League match against Galway.
Working with so many young players for the few weeks while the core squad are away will also give him a chance to see what kind of options he might have for later in the spring.
He needs to find a few more versatile athletes, two types of defenders — ones who can man-mark and ones who can man-mark and play ball — and, of course, maybe a forward or two who can add something to the mix.
When you think about it, there really won’t be too much downtime at all. But this is what it’s all about when you’re so close to winning an All-Ireland. And that’s what it’s all about.
The search for inches has started already
I THINK Stephen Rochford will look back on 2017 in two different ways when he sits down over the Christmas and reflects on another dramatic football year.
From a purely emotional point of view, he will be thinking: “Jesus, we were so, so close to winning that All-Ireland’. That’s only natural.
But as a coach, thinking about it analytically, he will think: “We did so many things right against Dublin, that if we do those things right again, we’ll be right up there again next summer’.
Thrown into the mix for him will also be two or three things that he will want Mayo to do better, more often, in 2018.
They need to find a more consistent way of scoring in the big games, not just in burst of fifteen and twenty minutes. To do that, I believe, Mayo need to spread the scorers around more and Conor Loftus will be a big player in that regard.
Another area where Rochford will be looking to see improvement is in relation to how Mayo manage games when they get on top. This really boils down to decision-making, but also to how you manufacture a few scores.
Whether that’s with the guys on the field, or by utilising some players off the bench, is what has to be worked on in the months ahead.
Anyone who knows anything about football will tell you that Mayo did an awful lot right in the All-Ireland Final, and sometimes there’s absolutely nothing between winning losing. Just maybe one more play from one other player.
That’s how close the margins are where Mayo now operate every year.
Happy Christmas, and roll on the FBD League!