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Johnno’s first hundred days

Kevin McStay
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John O'Mahoney
PLANNING John O'Mahoney

Johnno’s first hundred days

Kevin McStayKevin McStay

THE Mayo management team are running the show now for the past few months and with the league almost at the halfway mark, it is timely to have a look back over the period and see how things are shaping up. But as mentioned last week, we start the analysis knowing the answer – it is too early to read anything into the majority of events to date.
When you take over a team at senior inter-county level, you rarely have a blank canvas on which to paint your masterpiece. The underage ranks are different and a two-year plan will often allow you shape and select the players that you want to work with. But the seniors will nearly always come with some baggage and you generally inherit some players that are just starting out, others that have stagnated and the old sweats that wear the T-shirt.
It’s a mixum gatherum of odds and ends, glittering minor careers that never quite launched beyond that, guys in their mid-20s who have realised that early promise has turned to frustration and the veterans who are afraid to retire in case one last big push might open the door.
Those in charge are forming strong opinions already (you rarely get a second chance to make a good first impression) and no doubt opinions had formed over the years by merely observing these players in action. Some players will be cut shortly on the basis of performance, effort and attitude and you can be certain others will escape the guillotine because the report cards are not yet conclusive. The tail end of the league (best if all is revealed here) or the championship will tell the tale about those who have yet to convince.
Within the group there are different small teams: the medical staff (doctor, physios, masseurs and so on), the logistics staff, the administration staff, the training, coaching and management staff and of course, most important of all, the playing staff. As the months pass by quickly, a rhythm and tempo, a routine and attitude evolve and the manager oils all the moving parts. The final product he hopes for will be a cohesive, spirited and skilled group, with all sections happy they are there for the correct reasons. It is a big job of work and the end state is a big ask.
The announcement of your first league team gets the ball rolling – we accept now that the provincial leagues are the only trials available these days as the NFL competition is just too serious. The spectators are keen to see what way the new men in charge are thinking, what positions are under the microscope and what tactics will be engaged.
When Mayo played Kerry in round one, JOM and his mentors used 19 players – a mix of the old and wise with the young and hungry. It was a winning combination. The old problem areas of full-back and full-forward got an airing with some success but those forward steps would soon be a net reverse; that’s the way the cookie crumbles when you are building block by block.
For round two, Mayo started with the same team, agreeing with an old sports adage that you never change a winning one (yet to be scientifically proven of course!). By the final whistle, with the introduction of Marty Mac, Mark Ronaldson and Aidan Campbell, we had used 22 players in the campaign to date. The result was a loss to Donegal in a top-class spring league match. It was here we witnessed the first bit of black ice – the early promise of James Kilcullen took a reality check when faced with classy experienced forwards. Another lesson learned.
The last round versus Limerick was a dour affair but at least the points were captured. Three more players took their opening bow in the league – Kenneth O’Malley in goal was joined by Enda Devenney and Ronan McGarrity. So, 25 have togged so far and you can be pretty sure a few more will be slipped in before the end of April.
And with the modern panels now exceeding 30 players, the dynamics of this group are very often the source of most trouble. You can only start 15 and with a maximum of five subs, the mid-week team announcement can cause tensions that make a habit of surfacing on match day. I am reminded that those who do not produce anything produce the most trouble. Yet another angle for management to factor in.

READING OVER lists reminds all of us how easy it is to get out a page and start writing what it is we want from any campaign of action. It is much more difficult to actually do something to ensure execution, for it is a truism that ideas matter less than the ability to make them work.
I sat on a committee once and in the midst of what appeared on paper to be a cunning plan, a former Mayo great asked that some form of examination be built into our coaching course. His life experience had taught him that ‘what gets measured, gets done’. Of course he is right, and the squad will need regular health checks on their fitness, commitment and attitude throughout the season.
Frank and serious team meetings with no holds barred will contribute to keeping everybody humble and focussed on what is best for the team. JOM not only has the T-shirt in this regard, he’s also ‘been there and done that’.
What we do know so far is that the squad has a good morale with both players and management showing a healthy respect for the other. They have trained extremely well and made some early season lodgements for the ‘rainy days’ of summer.
The results are fine – two from three is a number that allows progress under the radar. Division One status should be realised sooner rather than later and thus a season goal achieved. Management are prepared to make a few big calls too – eyebrows were raised when five of the expected team sat down for the Limerick game.
Does winning the league remain a goal thereafter? I don’t know – Johnno has yet to win one in his glittering career and the final of this competition will be before the election! My own feeling is we may be roped into the closing stages, perhaps against our will. And in with a big shout too because many of the bigger guns are slipping back.
We will see. As stated at the outset – it is simply too early to know anything for sure.

MAYO SQUAD 2007

THE ROUGH PLAN
• Put the backroom team together – fix responsibilities
• Agree the fitness programme with trainer
• Issue the season calendar
• Outline squad objectives (non-playing)
• Introduce team tactics
• Fill all central positions early
• Agree on season goals (playing)

OBJECTIVES
(NON-PLAYING)

• Discipline
• Morale
• Respect
• Attitude
• Enthusiasm
• Loyalty

KEY ISSUES
MAYO 2007

• Fitness of older players
• Filling of central positions early
• Mental strength (individuals and team)
• Fix responsibilities for every member of the group

SEASON GOALS
• FBD to be used as trials
• NFL – secure Division One status
• Championship – win Connacht or reach QF by backdoor