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McStay starts as he means to go on

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FIRST WORDS Mayo manager Kevin McStay is pictured during his first media briefing at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park in Castlebar recently. Pic: Sportsfile

There was plenty to take from Kevin McStay’s recent round of media interviews


Feature
Edwin McGreal

Management structure
THE new Mayo manager was asked by John Fogarty of The Irish Examiner if his role was going to be that of ‘a chairman rather than a chief’. McStay did not answer directly, but it’s clear from everything he said in various interviews that he is going to be, effectively, a chairman of the management team, a group he gave a ringing endorsement to.
“Collaboration. That’s the way I’m going to go about it,” he told Fogarty.
In a later interview, he remarked of his management team: ‘I have total trust in them’.
“I know they could take a meeting or take a dressing room and absolutely seamlessly get on with it. I take great strength in that,” he told The Mayo Football Podcast.
He said that Stephen Rochford, Liam McHale, Donie Buckley and Damien Mulligan were the only people he had in mind for his management team, that there was ‘no plan b’ and while he singled out each of them for particular praise, it is clear that he views Rochford as first among equals.
The former Donegal coach is McStay’s assistant manager and also played a key role in the application process.
“Stephen is very modest at this press night. All I can say is he has been a huge part of where we are tonight in terms of getting things in place and putting it together,” the manager told Rob Murphy.
He said there will be no ‘demarcation line’, implying a fluidly between the roles of Messrs Rochford, Buckley, McHale and Mulligan.
There is, he added, still plenty to be decided in the weeks ahead around structures and philosophy.

Players and standards
SOMETIMES public utterances and private chats can be very different, but on the face of what Kevin McStay said at the various media interviews, he is very enthused by the existing Mayo squad.
Responding to a question from Rob Murphy of The Mayo Football Podcast about Oisín McConville saying Mayo need a ‘big bad boss’, McStay countered that, giving a clear indication as to his views of the Mayo squad.
“The idea of roaring and shouting and kicking a table upside down … I’m not sure how far that can go with a modern group of players. They’re well educated, they’re very clever people. It is always better to appeal to their senses of what is right and what is wrong. I think the only criticism they will ever worry about is the criticism they deserve.
“My sense of the players I’m going to have in front of me is that they’re very much self-starters, they have very high standards, if things need a little bit of tweaking and the standard needs to be tweaked a bit more, I’m well capable of setting that. I would insist on it. I would be almost anal on that. If we set a standard, that’s it. There’s no other standard.”
Standards came up in the main interview too.
“I think to get into our group in the first instance will require very high standards in everything you do, in the way you go about your business.
 “Obviously we are looking for guys with real character, probably first and foremost.
 “Talent will be important but it won’t be key.
 “The desire to live the life of a Mayo footballer, and do the things that are required to keep us really, really relevant will be the main thing.”

Talking Tactics
ONE of the regular criticisms of James Horan was — rightly or wrongly — that he was too entrenched in a style of play that was not cogniscant enough of the opposition’s own approach.
It was clear from listening to both Stephen Rochford and Kevin McStay that Mayo’s set-up is going to be quite fluid.
“We need to be agile and need to be adaptive to different game plans,” Rochford told Rob Murphy.
“We don’t want to be predictable. We want to be able to surprise the opposition from time to time but also having the ability to be able to adapt to what the opposition will throw. So, yes, we have our own thoughts on how that will be and again that’s something that excites me,” he said.
McStay gave a similar outlook from the top table earlier in the press night.
He said that the ‘opposition will be a major aspect of how we set up but all things being equal we feel there is a Mayo style of play’.
He said this would include ‘high skill levels, athleticism’, getting the ball out of defence ‘quickly’. Getting the ‘balance right’ between defence and attack will be key.
 “While people will probably want to zone in on our forward play we have to have our defence absolutely rock solid.
 “That’s going to be the keystone of everything we do. We can’t win Championship games if that balance is wrong,” he said.

Media, fans and CB
IT’S clear from his soundings so far that Kevin McStay is trying to foster good relationships with the Mayo GAA Board, with Mayo supporters and with the media.
The press conference itself is an example of the latter and he clearly sees the media as a conduit to the supporters.
There’s no denying that the mood among Mayo fans towards the senior team soured somewhat in 2022. Much of that was the fallout from the All-Ireland loss to Tyrone but James Horan’s reluctance to communicate was clearly a factor too.
Rebuilding that relationship is an obvious target and is not a hard win, by and large.
McStay set about doing just that at the press night.
“I can assure you working on Mayo people to get them up and out to matches doesn’t take much work at all,” he said at the top table. “Mayo have just fabulous supporters. I can go back 40 years on this to my own experience.”
Later on he elaborated with The Mayo Football Podcast.
“We are very conscious of the relationship. Without supporters, this thing doesn’t happen. “The game doesn’t mean anything to us. Winning a big match and there’s no connection to the supporters? It means nothing to us. It couldn’t. It’s like playing in a Covid arena, in a stadium with no supporters.
“But the relationship with Mayo supporters has pretty much always been brilliant so there’s no big deal here. I think some people are over-egging it.”
McStay added that Mayo GAA Chairman Séamus Tuohy has been ‘absolutely excellent with me so far’ and franked the board’s appointment process, saying it was at the level of what he experienced when seeking promotion in the Irish Army.
But as he said in a general way, this is still the ‘honeymoon period’.

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