THROWBACK Then Mayo manager Stephen Rochford shakes hands with then Roscommon manager Kevin McStay after the 2017 All-Ireland SFC quarter-final replay at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
THEY say there’s no substitute for experience.
That’s certainly the way I see it when it comes to senior inter-county management, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m quietly optimistic about the year ahead for Mayo.
When it comes to Kevin McStay and most of his management team, for me the questions are: how will they use their previous experience for the benefit of this Mayo team?
With the benefit of experience, and hindsight, what would they like to do differently?
Managing a senior inter-county team is so all-encompassing and time-consuming, with so many moving parts and factors to manage, the media scrutiny can be intense.
So I firmly believe that it’s a huge benefit to Mayo to have experience in the management team; experience of what is required to operate at that level and to be successful.
There’s no doubt that Kevin McStay had a certain amount of success with Roscommon in the recent past, similarly Stephen Rochford and Donie Buckley had some success at this level, but I think this is a brilliant opportunity for them to have even more in 2023.
Because they can now draw on their experiences of what worked, and what didn’t, and you can be sure there are certain things that Stephen Rochford learned from his three years as Mayo manager that he will use to his advantage now.
For example, Kevin didn’t have the deepest pool of players in Roscommon, Stephen had a similar scenario with Mayo from 2016 to 2018; so building up as much strength in depth as possible in the panel will have been a big focus for them in the last few months.
One of the main priorities over the last month will have been to get players as fit as possible and motivated for what lies ahead. All the while, trying to ensure that injuries are kept to a bare minimum.
One thing that interests me is the level of ‘buy-in’ the new management are getting from players. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was difficult, in some cases, because of the ‘down year’ that Mayo had in 2022.
The reality is that Mayo are going to be relying on a lot of players who have played a lot of football over the last 10 years; lads like the O’Connor brothers, Stephen Coen, Rob Hennelly, Aidan O’Shea, Jason Doherty, Kevin McLoughlin. Can you get them motivated to give it 100 percent again right from the first training session?
Because if they don’t do the work now, or in the last month, then it gets even more difficult when the fitness base needs to be in place and players should be focussing on sharpening up, tactics and game-plans.
So the task for the last few months and for the next four weeks, before the National League starts, will have been about motivating the longest-serving players to go hard again and generating some enthusiasm in the group.
Mayo have been lucky in that some of the most highly-motivated lads who have ever played the game have been in Mayo dressing-rooms in the last 10 or 15 years.
That’s going to be needed again, and replacing the likes of Colm Boyle, Chris Barrett, Seamie O’Shea, Keith Higgins and so on — guys who drove it on every night — isn’t easy.
Lee Keegan isn’t there at the moment either… so that task will fall to other players.
We’ll learn a little over the next few weeks, but the National League is where we’ll see what changes the new management team are trying to make. After waiting for more than six months to see Mayo back in action, the matches can’t get going quickly enough again.
It’s crucial that Mayo play to their strengths
A LOT of people — myself included — are fascinated to see what Kevin McStay and Stephen Rochford have learned from watching Mayo over the last few years, and what they they do with those observations.
Will they go with the tried and tested? Will they try and change the tactics significantly? Are they going to revolutionise Mayo’s approach?
I don’t expect them to do that, because I don’t think it would be the right approach.
My view is that you try and build on the strengths of the squad, continue to do stuff they’re comfortable with,
The best coaches only deal with the best attributes of the players they have at their disposal.
You look at Mayo’s squad and you see the running power they have and the ability to break the lines, that’s probably the best attribute that so many of the players have.
But, at the same time, Mayo have lost Oisin Mullin and Lee Keegan isn’t back yet.
So Kevin McStay has to decide if he can still rely on the likes of Paddy Durcan and Eoghan McLaughlin to do the strike-running from the half-back line? He probably can.
The new coaching team will also have to try and harness some of the strengths of some players we might not have seen fully-utilised yet; for example, will they persist with Jack Carney in the full-forwardline? If they do, then are Mayo going to become more direct and kick the ball more?
If good ball-winners like Ryan O’Donoghue and Tommy Conroy are back in the forwardline, will Mayo be more expansive? Is that the way management is thinking?
I’m looking forward to finding out.
But the strength of this Mayo team remains the running power, that’s the base that everything else has to be built, I believe. Yes, there needs to be tactical tweaks and an evolution of the team and squad and style of play, but it can’t be at the expense of what it does best.