INSIDE THE CIRCLE Former Mayo ladies manager Peter Leahy is pictured giving a pre-match team talk before a championship match in 2018. Pic: Sportsfile
Peter Leahy resigned as Mayo ladies manager last week after three turbulent seasons
AFTER Peter Leahy announced he was resigning as the manager of the Mayo ladies senior football team last Tuesday morning on Midwest Radio, it brought an end to one of the most eventful managerial reigns in Mayo GAA/LGFA history.
The previous night at the virtual Mayo LGFA AGM, a new County Board executive was also elected, comprised of many of the people who had resigned from the executive committee almost 12 months earlier, citing ‘unanswered questions’ about finance and governance they had raised at last February’s County Board meeting.
The Westmeath man said last week that he was announcing his departure ‘with a tinge of sadness’, adding that a new opportunity had arisen – as coach to the Meath Under-20 men’s team. He also claimed that he would ‘find it difficult’ to work with the newly-elected Mayo LGFA Board.
The incoming Mayo LGFA chairperson, Des Philips of Kilmovee LGFA, who replaced the outgoing Yvonne McEvilly, said in an interview with the The Connaught Telegraph later last Tuesday that he had still not had any official communication from Leahy (who had one year remaining on his term) that he had left his post.
However, The Mayo News understands that contact was subsequently made between the departing manager and a County Board official, and the news was confirmed.
So where did it all go wrong for Peter Leahy and Mayo LGFA?
After being appointed in November of 2017, things started very brightly, with some new blood injected into the Mayo squad and an exciting style of football in the spring of 2018 creating the feeling of a new era.
Yet, for every yard that was gained on the field, off-field controversies started to become a problem.
After scouring the county for lots of new talent, Leahy guided Mayo to an impressive League run in his first year, defeating Cork in the semi-final before losing to Dublin in the 2018 final.
The bounce would not last long, however, because two months later, after Mayo had been beaten by Galway in the Connacht Final, up to ten players left the Mayo panel citing ‘player welfare’ reasons.
What followed was one of the darkest periods in Mayo LGFA history and a messy media battle between both sides unfolded. Shots were fired and returned from all directions, with the Mayo LGFA Board eventually coming out and strongly backing Leahy.
The same Board then presided over what seemed to many to be a witch-hunt against the Carnacon club, who were initially ejected from the Mayo LGFA club championship before later being reinstated.
Professional mediation attempts were made to try and repair the damage, but no white smoke ever left the chimney and a new-look Mayo ladies squad continued on.
Three years later and Mayo are still in a situation where the best senior club team in the county for the past 20 years have had no representatives in the county senior panel for the last two seasons. A handful of other talented footballers have also been effectively banished.
Peter Leahy told The Mayo News in an interview in January 2019 that the Mayo panel was open for the departed players to return, and that he held no grudges.
Unfortunately, it never turned out to be that simple.
A lack of leadership from the top table of Mayo LGFA, and an unwillingness, for whatever reasons, to get it done contributed to the stand-off.
No fairytale ending
ALL the while, football continued on the pitch and it did appear, on the surface, that progress was being made.
In 2019 Mayo came within a kick of a ball of reaching an All-Ireland Final, again losing to Galway. Players like Sarah Rowe, the Kelly sisters, Grace and Niamh, Rachel Kearns and Aileen Gilroy were now the team’s leaders.
Peter Leahy was never shy about saying that he felt there was an All-Ireland title in his Mayo team, but a disappointing All-Ireland quarter-final exit in a 2020 championship impacted by Covid-19, and the rise of the ‘Blue Wave’ in Dublin meant there was no fairytale ending.
A large number of players were drafted in to play senior football over the last three seasons, but no Connacht championship titles, and no championship victories over Galway, have to be a source of disappointment. The gap between Mayo and Dublin also continues to grow.
Earlier this year, Peter Leahy raised some eyebrows when he told Midwest Radio that Mayo players would no longer be able to ‘cross-codes’ between Aussie Rules and Gaelic football, before later seeming to back-track on those remarks.
There is no way of knowing for sure how the five Mayo players who had played Australian Rules football up to that point felt about Leahy’s comments because Mayo players were not given permission, by the management, to talk to the press.
With all the Mayo LGFA Boardroom controversies unfolding, the hatches were being battened down on all sides.
A huge task now lies ahead for the new Mayo ladies manager. Front and centre of his or her tasks must be to try and repair the relationship between the players who left the panel in the summer of 2018 and the rest of the squad.
That’s assuming they are willing to return, of course, and if a strong working relationship can be forged between them and the current panel.
It’s a task almost as daunting as negotiating the Brexit withdrawal agreement, but it is crucial for the future of Mayo ladies football. There are some relationships that will never be mended, but there’s still a wealth of talent that has been excluded when Mayo have gone into battle in recent years. Players have been penalised for something they had nothing to do with.
In team sports, we often hear of the phrase ‘leaving the jersey in a better place than where you found it’.
It’s refers to a legacy, and is often used to gauge whether someone’s time with a team has been a success or not. Time will tell how history judges Peter Leahy’s tenure with Mayo.