THE WAITING GAME A section of the crowd watch on during Mayo's Connacht SFC defeat to Galway at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park back in April. Pic: Conor McKeown
The reaction to the process to appoint a new Mayo manager has been fascinating to watch
I LOVE a moan as much as anyone – especially when it comes to Mayo football.
Lord knows there’s been enough justifiable frustrations over the years.
But some of the moaning and whinging that has accompanied the search to replace James Horan as Mayo senior manager has been absolutely off the charts.
And it has been very revealing, not alone of the people who are moaning loudest, but of the overall mood in Mayo football presently.
There’s a lot of anger. There’s far too many agendas and there’s not enough people willing to look at this in a calm, measured manner.
There have been some extremely unfair things said about all of the candidates online while, unfortunately, some of that has seeped into some local media coverage too.
The process to find a replacement for Horan has been labelled ‘a circus’ in some quarters and we’ve been told by many people in local and national media, on social media, and in countless face-to-face interactions that the whole thing has been a farce and wouldn’t happen in Kerry or Kilkenny.
The Kerry comparison is interesting. There has been a lot of criticism that three of the four backroom teams were ‘leaked’ to various media outlets.
First of all that assumes that those candidates actively went out and tried to release the information. Big deal if they did but, crucially, we don’t think it is that simple.
Kevin McStay’s candidacy and his backroom team started to become common knowledge around the county around lunchtime on Thursday, July 28. It was that evening before it was broken nationally — by Pat Nolan on the Irish Mirror website. If it was leaked, one might think all the national platforms who published it would have had it before then.
Mike Solan’s backroom team was first reported on the Friday evening, by Tommy Rooney of Off The Ball, after the deadline for nominations had closed.
Declan Shaw’s backroom team came into the public arena on the following Sunday.
This writer can only speak for Declan’s management team going public as we were directly involved in breaking that story on The Mayo News website.
On the Saturday we decided to contact all four candidates to either confirm or declare their backroom team and offer all a chance to speak with The Mayo News Football Podcast.
Declan Shaw said he hadn’t his team confirmed by then, but would have by the next day and would get back to me. He did and we published it. Hardly a leak.
He subsequently did an interview with us, explaining why he was going forward, what he felt he could bring and speaking about his backroom team. That caused more anger.
But as the dark horse for the race, why wouldn’t he put his case forward publicly? There would have been nothing wrong with any of the candidates setting out their vision. Why do we get so uptight about people being upfront? Some people think this is why Mayo do not win All-Irelands – we are not discreet enough.
If only it was that simple!
Ray Dempsey said he would prefer to wait and would release it to all the local papers first. That was perfectly his right too.
But there has been an inference many have drawn that Dempsey’s approach is the only correct one here and that details of backroom teams don’t emerge elsewhere.
‘Only in Mayo’ etc.
Well, we don’t have to go back too far to blow that argument apart.
IN September 2021 the backroom teams of those going for the Kerry job were known. Stephen Stack was leading a team which included Dara Ó Cinneide, Séamus Moynihan and Donie Buckley. Jack O’Connor intended to call on the services of Paddy Tally, if chosen. O’Connor made far from subtle overtures for the job to in an Irish Examiner podcast after Kerry’s defeat to Tyrone before any decision had been taken about whether Peter Keane would be kept on or not.
The line about ‘get a reputation for getting up at dawn and you can sleep to noon’ springs to mind.
There was scant criticism of the names being released when it was Kerry but when it happens in Mayo, we are told, ‘why can’t we do it like they do in Kerry and Kilkenny?’
Kerry, like Mayo, threw open the floor for nominations which brings us onto Kilkenny and their commendably swift replacement of Brian Cody with Derek Lyng.
Many in Mayo held this up as an example of the way to do it. It’s quite an achievement for Derek Lyng’s tenure to be deemed a success before the puck of a single ball.
But when we look to Kilkenny, we are not comparing like with like.
Firstly it seems a natural succession – Lyng served as a selector under Cody after retiring as a player and subsequently managed the county’s U-20s.
Secondly, and we cannot emphasis this enough, the level of trust for the Kilkenny County Board is very high. They can make a unilateral decision like this with plenty of goodwill behind them.
Here? Well we wrote in recent weeks about the litany of farces Mayo fans have been subjected to over the years with management appointments.
If Mayo County Board moved like Kilkenny, we can be certain the goodwill would not have flowed as easily.
The process in place for nominations, for who ought to be on the sub-committee and the interview process itself should protect the board and also ensure that the four Mayo men brave enough to put their names forward are treated fairly and with respect, unlike far too many other incidents down the years.
This process should see the best man get the gig.
FURTHERMORE, whoever comes through this process, against such keen competition, ought to be in a much stronger position than someone appointed unilaterally.
The high quality of candidates and backroom teams have surprised many, including this writer.
Have things went perfectly? Of course not. I still think the County Board could have moved faster in starting the process (they waited two weeks after James Horan stood down), in assembling the sub-committee after the closure of nominations and in terms of arranging the interviews.
We’re now seven weeks on since Horan’s departure and the interviews are only commencing later this week. In Kerry last year, they’d the process wrapped up inside three weeks.
Mayo’s communication has been poor too. They were not proactive at various stages.
For instance there was total radio silence for six days after the executive meeting which decided on six of the seven members of the sub-committee.
Instead of controlling the message, they allowed rumours to grow and, eventually, accounts of who were on the sub committee and the format it would take were published in local media. They were largely true but had certain inaccuracies.
The board missed their chance to manage the message.
You could also argue that a seven person sub-committee from which a five person interview board will form is unwieldy. It seems two of the sub-committee will have as much say as you or I.
But fundamentally it is a solid process. The County Board will have to recognise that trust is earned and avoiding the inglorious episodes of the past this time, the next time and the time after that might start to see trust grow.
But we can’t just assume this is wrong because it is Mayo. It is a process which worked in Kerry. Sometimes our fatalistic streak can be damaging.
As can the many agendas and levels of self-interest that exist in Mayo football circles that sees people opportunistically go on the attack.
Mayo GAA Secretary Dermot Butler said they are ‘under pressure’ to get this right, but that he is confident they will ‘end up with the very best candidate’ by the end of it.
Let’s wait and see but, in the mean time, we all probably need to calm down and let the process take its course.
Not everyone can be happy by the final outcome but let’s see if it is fair and transparent.
We have nothing yet to convince us otherwise.