Sunday 25 September 2016

Colm Keys: McStay facing delicate Rossies balancing act

Published 09/09/2016 | 02:30

Former Roscommon joint manager Fergal O’Donnell resigned this week. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Former Roscommon joint manager Fergal O’Donnell resigned this week. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile

The events that have engulfed Roscommon football this week, culminating in Wednesday night's decision to open up the position of senior manager just 24 hours after Fergie O'Donnell announced that he was stepping away from the joint-ticket shared with Kevin McStay, were not even a speck on the horizon last April.

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In their first season as a Division 1 team, they had exceeded the target of survival by reaching the last four.

Kerry trimmed them in that semi-final and it was the wobble that maybe they had anticipated all along would come at some stage. But at the time it felt like only that - a wobble.

In an interview with the Irish Independent prior to Roscommon's trip to New York, the sense of managerial harmony had been palpable.

When McStay was initially approached for the position, he explained, a joint-proposal with O'Donnell was the only way he felt it could work. McStay was living in Roscommon for 25 years, he had managed Roscommon Gaels, played with them and led St Brigid's to an All-Ireland title. He was very much embedded in it. But in the back of his mind he knew the perception of him as an 'outsider' might still exist.

Conscious of the fate of John Maughan and Tommy Carr before him, having O'Donnell on board with equal status was what, he said, his decision would "live or die by."

It made sense. O'Donnell lived Roscommon football and his status in the county made them more "bomb-proof" if the project strayed off the tracks.

"I'm 'the Mayo man', I guess. That's the pigeon hole," he said at the time. "Because we're a young team we're going to have a few speed wobbles. If pressure comes on and I'm on my own, and especially because I was thinking of bringing in Liam (MacHale), two Mayo men, the pressure might come out on the players because we're under pressure. I was very conscious of who I could bring that could make us bomb-proof. And once I asked myself that question there was only one guy."

But as Roscommon went crashing out of the championship to Clare in a qualifier six days after a heavy Connacht final replay defeat to Galway, there were rumblings about a fracture in the relationship, hastened by the direction the team had taken over the previous three weekends.

When they met over the weekend it was clear that the relationship was over. It could only be one or the other. O'Donnell's parting statement suggesting divisive influences were at hand in a potential contest for the position between himself and McStay. But they were divisive only in the event of a contest, not in their continuation as a partnership.

Clearly an 'uno duce, una voce' approach had been decided.

How had it come to it so soon? The championship had gone badly. From the near-miss in New York to the erratic nature of the performance against Sligo to the games against Galway, there was uncertainty over what their optimum playing style should be.

The free-flowing expression of the early rounds of the league made way for a more cautious approach. Was that a reflection of diversity in coaching ethos from the sideline?

As the original choice 12 months ago when the vacancy arose, prior to the approach to O'Donnell, McStay held the stronger hand.

But the strength of his hand may ultimately now weaken his position. That 'bomb-proof' security he sought is gone.

For Roscommon, the sense of hope that underpinned the early part of the season has been displaced by something wholly familiar. Managerial terms tend to end badly in the county.

McStay, the only likely candidate when nominations close in 10 days' time, is now facing the very situation he was keen to avoid.

Irish Independent

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