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McStay keeps his focus narrow


POSITIVE VIBES Mayo manager Kevin McStay. Pic: Sportsfile

Mike Finnerty

WE wonder what was going through Kevin McStay’s head as he made his way home — which just happens to be across the road from Dr Hyde Park — last Sunday evening.
The Mayo manager lives just a few minutes walk from Roscommon’s ground and probably would have enjoyed the fresh air and quiet time after finishing up a round of media interviews with everyone from TG4 to RTÉ to newspaper journalists from all corners.
All of the conversations had hit the same key points but, in the peace and quiet of his own corner, you can be sure that relief was the over-riding emotion.
Beating the Rossies meant that Mayo were assured of top-flight football for 2024 and another win keeps everything moving in the right direction.
Morale and momentum are still intact after two months of matches and good results.
Somebody asked McStay outside the Mayo dressing-room if making five changes to the starting team — and holding the likes of Ryan O’Donoghue and Aidan O’Shea in reserve — was a case of ‘not showing a full hand’ to Roscommon five weeks before the teams meet again in the championship.
He batted the question back like the seasoned professional he is.
“Not at all. Not a chance,” he replied.
“Any guy that starts today is expected to go full throttle or he’ll be falling down the pecking order. as simple as that. Matchday 26, to get into it – if you’re fit you’re good to go.
 “I’m going to be absolutely honest – we haven’t even thought of the championship,” he added. “Other than we know Roscommon are there waiting for us.
“In terms of prep for it, the only thing we’ve put down is as good a pre-season as we’ve ever had, getting the boys well-conditioned and ready to play robust and serious National League matches, which I think we’ve done. And after that, we’ve just gone week to week.
“You see the crowds that are coming to these matches, you see the atmosphere around them. You have to prep and get ready for them. We have our own little routine that we’re happy with and we’ll carry that now to the Donegal fixture, to the Monaghan fixture and beyond.
“Honestly, other than I know when it is – Easter Sunday – and I know who we’re playing, we haven’t even looked at it.
“If I’m thinking about it, I’m thinking there’s a lot of games. There’s Connacht, the round-robin series, the All-Ireland series. I know there’s a lot of games. So to prepare for a lot of games, there aren’t many games to be getting it done now, not with the fixture list we have.”
Another interesting topic that came up was Mayo’s late goal chance that saw Ryan O’Donoghue turn down the opportunity to take an easy point, and instead tee up Tommy Conroy for a point-blank palmed effort that smacked off the Roscommon crossbar.
As an All Star corner-forward himself back in the day, what did Kevin McStay think of the decision, in hindsight?
“They’re brilliant chances when they end up in the net,” he smiled.
“When they don’t, yeah you’re going, ‘Why didn’t he punch it over the bar?’
“But we can’t be down there as coaches telling them that the move turned into a goal on Tuesday and then getting onto him saying, ‘Why didn’t you fist it over?’ on Sunday.
“You have to empower people to read what’s in front of them. to me, at that moment, it was the right thing to do. A millisecond later, it was the wrong thing to do – he could have punched it over and padded out the lead we’d be away up the road. You can’t coach lads to be safe, safe, safe all the time. I don’t believe in that.
“They’re top players, they make these decisions in real time, we have to live by them.”

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