FLASHBACK Stephen Rochford is pictured with some Mayo players following the defeat to Dublin in last year All-Ireland SFC Final. Pic: Sportsfile
“We all want the same things”
- Craig Finn, God in Chicago
A FRIEND tells a story that could be true of 50 per cent of Irish households. Back in 2004, his brother was backpacking across south-east Asia and got caught up in the Tsunami which devastated the region. For days the brother was uncontactable, literally stuck up a tree. Like many Irish, there was much worry as to whether he was safe.
Finally, the white smoke came in the form of a phone call. His money and possessions lost, the brother cut short his trip, and returned home. He arrived at the bus stop in Swinford, where he was greeted by his father. It had been many months since they had seen each other, and given that the son had just survived the greatest natural disaster in living memory, he was happy to be alive.
Despite all the stories he had to tell, and all the questions the father undoubtedly wanted to ask, they travelled home in silence.
After ten minutes, the father broke it, with a line that has stuck with me ever since, as possibly the most Irish question ever asked: “Was there many on the bus?”
That is the end of the story.
I think of it often, in the context of how we communicate with each other. It is hardly a distinctly Irish phenomenon that we speak very little about how we truly feel, but we are subject matter experts in it.
I am as guilty, maybe guiltier than anybody. Of course, we have no problem telling other people how we feel about a particular person, but rarely, if ever the person themselves. That usually goes for both the positive (I love you) and the negative (you boil my blood). Most of us just sit in the car, Ray Donavon style, in stony silence, breaking it only to ask was there many on the bus.
I believe much of what has happened in Mayo football since the time of Henry Dixon can be attributed to the ‘was-there-many-on-the-bus’ syndrome. An unwillingness to confront uncomfortable truths head-on, or even a little to the left of head-on, and try and sort them out. The events – or, non-events even – since that seminal night in Newbridge until Stephan Rochford’s statement last Monday all point to the County Board, the players and Rochford himself just sitting in the car, all knowing what needed to be discussed for the betterment of the greater good, but only too happy to consider instead the seating capacity of the bus.
All it took was three weeks of good old-fashioned Mayo silence, and suddenly rumours abounded on twitter that Aidan O’Shea was on a private jet to visit Putin to discuss the installation of a proxy management team in return for gas rights in Lough Conn – and that’s not even much of an exaggeration.
Much of what has happened can be laid squarely at the feet of human nature: people simply believing they are acting correctly, and that the other party is wrong. It is completely conceivable and utterly acceptable that the County Board for example, believed the Rochford experiment had run its course, and a change required.
It is also completely conceivable and just as acceptable that Rochford would disagree with this viewpoint.
Simultaneously, the players could have 30 individual views on the matter, all motivated by self-interest. If you think one of your heroes is not sitting in the dugout, just after being substituted, wishing his replacement ill, you are naively mistaken.
If that was the case, players would retire the day they believed the next guy up was better than him, and therefore the greater good of Mayo would be served. You can’t change human nature, but you can manipulate it.
Some years ago, around the time my buddy’s brother was stuck up a tree like Zacchaeus the tax collector in Koh Samui, I worked with the Swedish army overseas. They had a practice of rating their commanders — Utkvecklande Bedömnings Systems (Systems for Progress) - a 360° process of evaluation unheard of in the military, the most undemocratic of institutions.
During this time, they relieved a key commander of his duties based on the appraisals he received from his subordinates. We raved at how Scandinavian it was. So progressive! So evolved! Inwardly, I laughed. Evolved my arse. The 1992 iteration of the Mayo senior footballers were more Scandinavian than Volvo by that measure. We have tried that method. More than once. It’s time to pare it back a little.
Find the middle ground.
I KNOW what you’re thinking: stop presenting problems; we want solutions. I agree. In order to eradicate the culture of anti-communication in Mayo football, I propose seconding a Mayo mother onto the County Board. Her sole brief will be to act as the conduit between the management, the executive, and the players.
She will have free reign to contact any member of this holy trinity day or night, to gauge mood. Her standard daily message will read “HOPE ALL WELL NO NEWS HERE LOVE MAM”.
Her trademark will be all caps, and no punctuation. A non-response will be treated as clear indicator of untimely death or worse, and will be followed by 16 missed calls and incoherent voicemails, usually just a series of “HELLOs” shouted into the phone.
Absence of communication form one party to the other (County Board to management, for instance) will be dealt in the manner of the HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO YOUR BROTHER telegram we all get from time to time. If you get one of those, you know you must act.
The Mayo mother would never have tolerated the month-long hiatus the Board and Rochford took from each other post Kildare, and would have dealt with it thus:
“HAVE YOU SPOKEN TO ROCHY NO NEWS MAM” “No”.
“WHY NOT LOVE MAM”
“Dunno. We said we’d leave it a month”
“DON’T BE STUPID CALL HIM NOW LOVE MAM”
Problem solved. No need for last weekend’s Benghazi. No need for Miriam O’Callaghan. No need for Marty.
After two weeks of these motherly interventions, I can guarantee you the Trinity will speak very openly and candidly about how they are feeling about each other, to each other.
Of course, it is important who the next Mayo manager is. But, of more pertinence is how we change the culture of communication.
As Billy Joe Padden said on The Mayo News podcast last week, who cares what outsiders think of us. What matters is the greater good, the preservation of the health of a sport and a team that matters much to all of us. Personal interest is unavoidable – it is basic human nature – but it’s up to the collective to confront and challenge it, to be honest enough and mature enough to communicate the conflicting point of view in a productive way.
This goes not just for the much-maligned County Board, but for the players, management, media and supporters too. The easiest thing in the world is to perpetuate the “we are a laughing stock” narrative in texts and tweets when the waters get choppy, just as easy to drown in the sycophantic pool of “we are the greatest fans in the world” when our sails are full.
It’s time to grow up. All of us. Evolution, not revolution is required. We need to do whatever it takes not to be in the same place in three years. Print it on t-shirts. Tattoo it on our arms. Repeat it as prayer, but let us just remember this mantra: We all want the same thing.