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Mayo are in it to win it

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Stephen Rochford reflects on his first five months as Mayo’s manager

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Mike Finnerty

NEXT Sunday will be the third time that Stephen Rochford has been to the Irish TV Grounds in Ruislip on official business.
Fourteen years ago he played at right-corner back on the Crossmolina team that beat British champions, St Brendan’s, in the All-Ireland club football quarter-final.
He returned just before Christmas in 2014 to manage Corofin to victory over Tir Chonaill Gaels at the same stage of the same competition.
Next weekend, Rochford goes back to North London to make his championship debut as Mayo senior manager.
He sat down with The Mayo News to reflect on his first five and a half months in the job, and talk about what it’s like to be in one of the most high-profile jobs in Gaelic football.

MF: How do you feel as a Mayo man, as much as a Mayo manager, about the fact that it will be 65 years in September since the county won a senior All-Ireland title?
SR: As a Mayo person, a Mayo supporter, [I feel] disappointed. For as long as I’m going to Croke Park following Mayo, since 1989 right up to last year, I think we can all say that we felt that there were opportunities there when we could have won an All-Ireland. But it hasn’t happened.
2016 offers us an opportunity maybe to change that, but there’s a lot of hurdles to be jumped before we get to that. We have to really look to perform better the next day than we did the last day.
I’m quite optimistic about what the year can bring for us, but this year I feel, moreso than the last five or six years, it’s going to be hardest and most competitive Connacht championship.
Travelling abroad, and taking on the challenges that presents, means we’re not looking any further than May 29.

MF: After spending your entire life outside looking in like the rest of us, what it’s like now to be able to influence how Mayo can try to win the championship?
SR: It’s not something that I need to self-check about every day. I’ve got a really strong management team around me, a lot of very good, experienced footballers in that group, who are also going to have a role to play in deciding the shape and the fortune of the team.
I think that collective gives us the best opportunity of delivering on the potential of the team.

MF: What’s the most thing you’ve learned about the role so far?
SR: I probably haven’t had an awful lot of time to reflect on that aspect. The league, by its nature, is helter-skelter.
You’re dealing with the level of expectation that we, as a group, have for each game. While you may have performed reasonably well, and you don’t get the result, you may find yourself getting a little narrow-minded.
But with a couple of hours of reflection, you move on and take the positives.
The league campaign, overall, was very positive for us. It afforded us the opportunity to try new things, new players. This group have a good bit of experience and there may be a view that when a new management comes in that they’re going to start all over. That was never going to be the case.
We played 35 players in the league, there’s going to be five guys involved in the squad who weren’t involved in 2015, so that’s giving us a good blend of experience and newcomers.
But is there something that has surprised me?
This moves at a really, really quick pace. Thankfully, we’ll got a level of experience and expertise there that’s been able to assist me in dealing with that.

MF: What was been the best, most enjoyable thing that’s happened so far? What have you found most challenging?
SR: I think the challenge has been that last Friday [May 6] was the first time we had our squad together, and that’s the reality.
Between under 21s and Castlebar going on their run, the group has never been ‘as one’. We’ve had to deal with that, and that’s been a particular challenge.
Thus far, the most satisfying aspect has been that when the pressure came on the players and the management to close out the National League with the two wins at a time when they were needed, we did that.
Certainly, within those games there were things we need to do better but there were positive aspects, and the results, and retaining our Division 1 status, were important to us.
Overall, it was a good campaign and we learned a lot about the players and ourselves during it.

MF: A lot of people out there feel they could manage Mayo, and probably do it better than the guy who’s doing it.
After five months of being in the job, do you think people have any idea what it actually takes to manage Mayo?
SR: If you come in cold, and think I’m going to do ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ then I think you’re seriously fooling yourself.
Having had the experience with Corofin, and being involved as a player at a fairly high level with my own club, and being part of Mayo minor teams in a coaching/selector role, gave me a fairly good grounding and schooling for what lay ahead.
But, yeah, there’s a lot of different strands to the role.
You’ve got coaching, video analysis, strength and conditioning, medical, media, logistics, and that’s before you get to the biggest group, the players. There’s a lot of balls in the air.
There’s the relationship with the County Board, and managing that, that’s all challenging. But in the main part we’ve found that to be workable and we’ve looked to develop a good working relationship.
As we head into the summer, there are probably plenty of candidates out there that say, ‘Rochford should have done this, that or the other’ but that’s what it’s all about.
Supporters have opinions, and that’s all fine.

MF: Jim McGuinness thinks Mayo are the one team that can beat Dublin. There’s always somebody talking about Mayo. What’s your attitude to all the talk and the noise?
SR: I’ll be honest, I’m not rushing out to buy any papers at the moment [laughs].
Having opinions out there is all part and parcel of it.
But respect on both sides is important, that people understand what it is we’re trying to do.
Understanding that there’s a balance to arguments or positions that are put forward. People have to write, give opinions, offer analysis, that’s what markets the games.
That’s absolutely fine, as long as it’s fair and balanced.
Be it on a side that’s being critical of us, or critiquing us, or on a side that are holding us up as potentially All-Ireland champions. I think the keyword there is ‘potentially’.
That’s no trade secret. I didn’t take on this job to bring the team to Division 4. I’m looking to add something new, something different.
I’m looking to give the players an extra little push or drive, and that’s what Tony [McEntee], Donie [Buckley] and Seán [Carey] are also doing.
Maybe if we get a little bit of luck, we’ll be in a position to challenge on the third Sunday in September. But we’re a long, long way from there right now.
We’re not looking past May 29th at this moment.

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