IN THE SPOTLIGHT New Mayo manager Kevin McStay. Pic: Sportsfile
The way I see it
“An Ród seo Romhain – ‘The Road Ahead of Us’.”
THE phrase above will be well known to Kevin McStay and is now more relevant than ever.
It is after all his own words, coined from his time in the military and handwritten on the inside of my copy of ‘The Pressure Game’, his memoir about his time managing Roscommon.
Listening to McStay address the audience on the night of his book launch in Ballina three years ago, the ‘road ahead’ didn’t look like ending up back at MacHale Park.
The hurt of how his two attempts to land the prestigious title as Mayo manager cut deep.
He looked and sounded like a man who felt betrayed, let down by some of his own, and not inclined to darken that door again.
It was hard blame him too, given the actual circus that surrounded the events at the time.
This time around the metaphoric circus was not really one at all!
However, this correspondent believes that deep down Kevin McStay knew that one day the opportunity to manage his native county might come around again and, if it did, ambition and passion for Mayo would swing his decision.
Because he is, as he says himself, ‘a dreamer’ after all.
That night in Ballina he shared some insight with me about his time in the Army and how a certain element of his job centred around the logistics of moving large army bases from A to B on their peacekeeping missions.
I got the impression he’s a deep thinker, strategising and planning; trying to be one step ahead of the enemy at all times. That style was evident in how he managed his application for the Mayo job this time around.
He entered the battlefield early, flanked by strong and experienced infantry. The enemy were on the backfoot from the outset because he made sure that he controlled the narrative this time around.
It was trench warfare and McStay and his troops held the dominant defensive position.
His assigned platoon was extremely strong. Getting that out there in the public domain ahead of the posse was a stroke of genius, even if the County Board had declared it ‘No Man’s Land’.
Instantly, public opinion was on his side. McStay had to know that there was going to be very few who could match the strength of his backroom team. And he was right. Every backroom team announcement that came afterwards was compared to his and none could match up ‘pound for pound’ in the all-important currency of experience.
The Road Ahead
IN The Pressure Game, Kevin McStay candidly acknowledges that while he thoroughly enjoyed his time on the sideline with Roscommon, the losses and criticism were particularly hard to take. The highs were high but the lows were very low.
He also spared a paragraph for what he called the ‘online haters’ who used to spew insults and abuse on a regular basis. It’s clear they hurt McStay and he couldn’t block them out.
Such is the Wild West of online forums the abuse didn’t end when he left that role either. Because he’s regularly in the firing line for his analyst role with The Sunday Game.
Why? I don’t know. Personally I’ve always found him a fair and articulate voice behind the microphone.
Sure, he gets some calls wrong. But having experienced first-hand the difficulties of calling a live broadcast — the perils of calling what you see, when you see it and knowing full well a slow-mo replay could contradict exactly what you thought you saw — it’s not easy.
Combine the Roscommon experience with the broadcasting spotlight, douse it with some petrol and throw a match on it, and I think it will give some resemblance of what managing Mayo is going to be like.
Because ultimately this role is going to define Kevin McStay, the manager, like it has all the previous men that went before him. He has been trusted to land the Sam Maguire in four years and if he doesn’t do that then the public opinion will be one of failure.
That’s the harsh truth of what’s been expected from any Mayo manager in recent years and he will know that.
Hopefully there will be plenty of good days over the next few years but, no doubt, there will be some dark days on the field, and off the field they will be even worse.
The Mayo GAA online vacuum is absolutely poisonous right now. Social media has been ravaged by ‘small man’ syndrome and given platforms and voices to those with big opinions and little or nothing to back it up, most of the time not even an identity.
The sooner Kevin McStay learns how to use utilise the ‘mute’ button the better.
Thankfully, however, his appointment has restored some excitement around the county after the previous year’s hangover.
The gap to bridge to the top isn’t hugely significant for this team, providing they can avoid an injury list like what was experienced last year.
As Billy Joe Padden explained in these pages recently, there’s no need to start an ambitious rebuilding phase for Mayo right now. There’s an extra few percent that needs to be found, some self-made luck along the way, and Mayo won’t be far off.
And this management team look really good value to deliver what we (and they) all want.
Let’s focus on the road ahead of us now.