JOINT APPROACH Mayo manager Kevin McStay, left, and assistant manager Stephen Rochford are pictured speaking to the media last week. Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo’s new management team is headed up by an unlikely pairing
IT’S not that long ago that the idea of Kevin McStay managing Mayo, with Stephen Rochford by his side as his assistant, would have seemed unimaginable.
The sort of scenario that seemed possible only when picking ‘Fantasy Football’ teams or in the midst of a Christmas reunion of some Mayo fanatics.
One was a retired inter-county manager who was one of the country’s best analysts, co-commentators and TV pundits on RTÉ, and who was happy looking after the Roscommon Gaels’ minor team.
The other was coaching Donegal, giving a hand with the ‘Robe Rockets’ Under-9s, and juggling a challenging role with AIB with a busy home life and three young sons.
It just wasn’t going to happen.
They were both watching Mayo from the outside in.
But everything changed on the evening of Monday, June 28 last.
That was when James Horan announced he was ‘stepping away’, the position of Mayo senior team manager became vacant, and the wheels started to turn.
Kevin McStay admits he decided to explore the idea of going for the job ‘very quickly’ and soon he was sitting in Stephen Rochford’s house in Ballinrobe, telling him why they should work together, and what his ‘vision’ for the Mayo senior football team was.
‘It wasn’t long’ before Rochford was sold on the ideas and the role that was envisioned for him. “Within 24 hours we were sitting down planning ahead,” he admitted last week.
“The opportunity to come back and work with Kevin and seeing the plans he had in place made that decision quite simple. . . Kevin’s wider plan was the type of vision I was attracted to work with and we were very much on the same page on where we wanted to go with it.”
‘The calibre of people that were on Kevin’s list’ was another factor that swung it for the former Mayo manager. And once he was on board they quickly nailed down Donie Buckley, Liam McHale and Damien Mulligan to complete the management team.
As for the finer details of McStay’s ‘vision’, that’s ‘for the player group to hear firstly, with respect,” Rochford told us politely, but firmly, last week.
So, eleven weeks after James Horan’s departure, McStay and Rochford walked through the door of a room (that we had never visited before) together last Tuesday evening in MacHale Park in Castlebar.
McStay wore a black Mayo GAA jacket with his initials stitched just above the crest while Rochford wore a half-zip green Mayo GAA top that also bore his initials.
And, not to be outdone, coach/selector Damien Mulligan was sporting a Mayo training top that showed off the impressive physique he has retained since his days as an outstanding Crossmolina centre-half back and All-Ireland club winner.
The trio chatted freely, answered every question (even this reporter’s query about winning an All-Ireland, in a roundabout way) and were assured and aligned.
They made no wild promises or bold statements, vowing only to work hard, prepare professionally, and do everything necessary to be ready to hit the ground running for the start of the National League at the end of next January.
They were relaxed in each other’s company and the sight of Rochford in deep conversation with County Board chairman, Seamus Tuohy, at the end of the briefing showed how much has changed in four years.
Kevin McStay was also fulsome in his praise of the chairman and the ‘rigourous’ interview process that Tuohy had overseen last month.
McStay had said he was done with inter-county management back in 2018. He had been treated appallingly by some of the chief officers of the Mayo County Board four years earlier.
Rochford had similarly felt let down by empty promises and boardroom politics by some Mayo GAA officials in 2018 and walked away from his post as a consequence.
Coincidentally, only eight days separated Rochford’s decision to resign as Mayo manager and McStay’s announcement that he was stepping down as Roscommon manager four years ago.
They were heading in different directions and their days with Mayo seemed numbered. Certainly in Kevin’s case.
“You know when you’re tired and bet, and need to recover. . . ” he reflected last week.
“But I suppose you should never say never, should you really?” he added.
Not when it comes to Mayo anyway.