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Another fresh start for Team Mayo


STEPPING STONE New Mayo manager Stephen Rochford is looking to use the FBD Connacht League to prepare for next month’s National League campaign. Pic: Conor McKeown


Mike Finnerty

FOR the third year in a row, the Mayo senior footballers will start a new season against the students of NUI, Galway in the familiar surroundings of MacHale Park, Castlebar when they clash in the FBD Connacht League next Sunday.
Just four weeks after being ratified as the new Mayo manager, Stephen Rochford takes charge of the team for the first time with only a handful of collective training sessions under his extended panel’s belts.
However, Rochford has already made it clear that he intends to use the upcoming Connacht League games against NUI, Galway, IT Sligo and Roscommon as a means-to-an-end ahead of the start of the National League on January 31.
“For us, the FBD League has to be about more than winning it, because if you’re going to mount a sustained challenge during the year then you’ve got to be in Division 1,” he explained to The Mayo News.
“So I think it’s a responsibility on any manager that the team maintains its Division 1 status for the next team, which will be the 2017 team. That has to be a short-term goal, retaining your National League status.
“We certainly won’t be going out to lose the FBD because the best football comes from teams that are confident, and you won’t see guys flourish if they’re under pressure, having lost their first few FBD League games. So there’s a bit of balancing to be done there.”
With Donie Buckley currently out of the country on his annual trip to America, Rochford will be flanked by fellow newcomers Tony McEntee and Seán Carey on the sideline next Sunday.
The Mayo players only met with the new management team two weeks ago, so nobody is under any illusions that it will take the group a bit of time to get their second winds.
“The FBD League really will be about getting match fitness, and looking to put some meat on to the squad,” said Rochford.
“You’re heading into a National League campaign where the games come thick and fast, so if we can turn around two or three guys that can give us something, and get the wider panel up to a certain level of fitness, that’ll be the short-term aim.”
As well as those players unavailable next weekend due to their club commitments, including eight Castlebar Mitchels representatives and Hollymount/Carramore’s Stephen Coen, Mayo will also definitely be without Cillian O’Connor and Mickey Conroy due to injuries.
All Star Lee Keegan is also out of the country on holidays until next week.
All of which means that players that have been invited into the squad recently, like Garrymore duo Caolan Crowe and Shane Nally, Knockmore’s Shane McHale, Crossmolina’s Cathal Carolan and Aghamore’s David Kenny, will get their chance this month.
NUI, Galway are managed this season by former Mayo forward Maurice Sheridan and the ex-Roscommon attacker, Don Connellan.
They guided their team to the Higher Education Senior League Division 2 Final last month where they lost to St Pat’s of Drumcondra by nine points.
A host of Mayo club players are part of NUIG’s squad at the moment, including Breaffy’s Conor O’Shea, Stephen Brennan (Claremorris), Joe Geraghty (Ballintubber), Adam Gallagher (Mayo Gaels), Eoin O’Donoghue (Belmullet), Eoghan Lavin (Kiltimagh) and Steven Conroy (The Neale).
So as he prepares to begin his new journey as Mayo manager next Sunday, you wonder will it be possible for Stephen Rochford to enjoy the adventure, wherever it will take him?
“I didn’t take this job to put myself under pressure, or to be burdened by what the job is,” he replied. “My vision in life is to see the glass half-full, and this is an opportunity to be involved with a great bunch of lads.
“My intention is to enjoy it, and I think with the players we have, and the management team we have, this will be an enjoyable journey for everyone.”

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