GOING THEIR SEPARATE WAYS Former Mayo manager James Horan is pictured with his selectors Martin Lally, James Burke, Ciaran McDonald and Tom Higgins after losing to Kerry in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-final last month.
Pic: Conor McKeown
There will be a lot of work in front of whoever takes over from James Horan
BY this Friday evening at 6pm we will know who has thrown their name into the ring to be the next manager of the Mayo senior football team.
The identity of the nominees will tell us a bit. Among those whose names have been mentioned most frequently over the last few weeks are Ray Dempsey, Mike Solan and Stephen Rochford.
Maybe there might be more. Friday will reveal all.
But the names of the candidates for this particular race has the feeling of being like the tip of an iceberg. Lurking beneath the water is arguably an even more important element in the mix – each of their proposed backroom teams.
Anyone thinking it can be a one-man show is fooling themselves. James Horan took on more responsibility in his second term which we would argue added unnecessary pressure to him.
The inter-county management game has become such a behemoth.
Even when you had such a strong, singular manager like Jim Gavin, he was surrounded by a high-level and incredibly deep management team.
Each of the three favourites mentioned above has shown that ego has not been a barrier to them in the past. Stephen Rochford surrounded himself with a very strong management team when he took charge of Mayo in late 2015, knowing the credit would be shared but his priority was ensuring the highest level of preparation.
Mike Solan thought nothing of going in as a number two to Andy Moran in Leitrim last year, despite being a strong candidate to replace Rochford as Mayo manager.
Ray Dempsey has enjoyed a very successful two years with Knockmore and has surrounded himself with a very capable management team. He wasn’t afraid to be unconventional either, getting renowned basketball coach Terry Kennedy in as part of his support team.
Depending on how long they’ve fancied this job, any contender will have spent that time quietly making preparations.
They’ve had recent weeks to accelerate matters and see just who they can secure for their ticket.
Their full management teams may not be finalised, but they will need to have enough structure on it to convince the interview sub-committee in a few weeks’ time.
Stephen Rochford, if he sends his name forward, would have an undoubted edge having managed at senior inter-county level already, combined with four years coaching in Donegal.
In an illuminating recent episode of The Mayo News Football Podcast, Billy Joe Padden and Colm Boyle both spoke about the importance of having senior inter-county experience and that if it is not in the manager, for it to be by his side.
“It’s such an advantage to have experience of managing or being involved in a senior inter county setup already. The levels you go to from underage or even top level club football … “That gap is huge even still … If you haven’t the experience of managing at inter county level I think it would be really beneficial to have that experience in your backroom,” said Padden.
“Having the right people beside you is absolutely crucial. Obviously it is really important that the head man is strong but the whole team, the whole environment needs to be water tight and that would be the crucial thing for me so if it was to be a Mike Solan, it is the team they have around them and having the best around them, that’s absolutely crucial,” added Colm Boyle.
Both men outlined how Mayo can be contenders next year, and it was refreshing to hear county board chairman Séamus Tuohy say at the most recent County Board meeting that is is about a ‘step forward’, not back.
The last thing Mayo need is any loose talk of transition, a golden generation on the way out. To do so is to allow mediocrity to set in. The contenders for the post will need to articulate how they can move Mayo on and have them as strong All-Ireland contenders. Cost will be a key part of this and allowing Mayo to go toe-to-toe with other rivals is crucial.
Piecing the team together
THERE’S so much to consider now for an inter-county manager.
First, you will need your management team. Included in this will need to be a top-level coach plus two to three selectors. There’s ample quality within the county for those selector posts but top-class coaches are few and far between across the country.
You will need personnel who can act as defensive and offensive coaches, plus a goalkeeping coach.
A strength and conditioning team is vital. Conor Finn has been the main man for Mayo in this field in recent years and if any prospective candidates are looking elsewhere, they’ve big boots to fill.
You will need an analysis team who might be led by one of your selectors. This will likely include someone who will scout opponents, plus those who will monitor your games and provide the real-team stats that you want to focus on.
One area Mayo struggled on under James Horan’s second term was a dedicated media manager. Communication to the wider world was often poor and this added pressure on an already beleaguered manager.
From a medical point of view you are looking at having at least two physios and one doctor, possibly more. Crucial is rapid access to expertise when needed for particular injuries.
A sports psychologist is essential too. One only has to listen to Austin O’Malley talk about the gains here to realise it is a key component of any high-performance group.
Having someone of a high quality in control of logistics is vital while a kitman will be key too.
Mayo GAA rules dictate the County Board Liaison Officer must be from the board’s executive. This role is key in ensuring a smooth working relationship between the board and the senior team. ‘Smooth’ is not the word you would always associate with this dynamic in recent years.
All in all that team could run to more than 20 people.
It’s not sustainable, but that’s another debate. Right now it is the benchmark.
The man at the helm must run all of this. It is an onerous task but with the responsibility comes great honour and the potential for great reward.