Thursday 23 February 2017

Colm O'Rourke: Many people in Mayo circles will not weigh in behind the players

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Mayo captain Keith Higgins speaks to his team before the Dublin game
Mayo captain Keith Higgins speaks to his team before the Dublin game

Erich Maria Remarque wrote a famous book which was later made into an epic film called All Quiet On The Western Front. It dealt with the brutal nature of trench warfare in World War I.

A new version of this classic is emerging in Mayo. It is all less than quiet on the western front and the trenches are being dug by all the parties involved.

When the Mayo players delivered their black card to the team management, with no hope of a return, they must have known their actions were going to spark all-out war. What they did in effect was to send an execution squad to Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly. Once that happened, they were dead men walking in management terms. It is a brutal dismissal and public humiliation of two decent Mayo men who took on the job with only the best of intentions.

The players should have thought out their actions and realised that they have set themselves on a course where there is no going back. Have they thought out the human cost involved and the divisions this will create? Up to now this great collection of players have been second or third best in the country for the last five years. Their county was united behind them, always in hope, very often in sadness even if they have had great wins along the way.

Now that has changed. There will be plenty of people in Mayo GAA circles who will think this group of players have gone too far. The legacy of bitterness will endure. The genie is out of the bottle.

Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly were right to resign immediately, no matter how painful it was for them. They walk away with their dignity intact rather than hanging around to be buried in a sea of recrimination.

‘Could the management be blamed for Keith Higgins, the best Mayo player of his era, getting torched by Paddy Andrews?’
‘Could the management be blamed for Keith Higgins, the best Mayo player of his era, getting torched by Paddy Andrews?’

And walking away will be painful. They can rightly point to their record as the only recent Mayo management to win an All-Ireland at under 21 level, in 2006 and with some of this squad involved. Now many of those same men have turned on the management that brought a little glory to Mayo, a commodity which is in fairly short supply.

The seeds of discontent were sown in the appointment of these two men last year. There was an opportunity to appoint Kevin McStay but the Mayo County Board did what most county boards do, they made a mess of it. It is similar in many counties. People in power in county boards always want to have the appointment of the county manager within their gift, even if they have no experience in this regard. Instead of getting the right men or women to conduct the process and recommend the preferred candidate to the board, the Mayo executive made all the wrong moves and created the impression that the decision was made too early in the process.

Having Noel Connelly's brother, Mike, who is the board chairman, acting as liaison between players and management was another hostage to fortune.

The players' misgivings have obviously festered from the beginning of the year but after going so close to beating Dublin on two occasions, it is a strange move now.

It looks to the outside world as though the players feel that management played a significant role in the defeat this year. This is hardly fair to the men involved. Some issues certainly were not addressed. For me, Mayo have had a goalkeeping and a full-back problem for a while. They have also looked way behind some others in the top six when it came to a workable sweeper system.

Yet the management from last year did not blow the lead against Kerry on a couple of occasions, nor did this year's stop the team going for the kill against Dublin in the drawn semi-final, not to mention allowing a four-point lead slip in the replay. Could they be blamed for Keith Higgins, the best Mayo player of his era, getting torched by Paddy Andrews? Or Aidan O'Shea not performing in the two big games?

By pressing the nuclear button, the players may not have thought of the consequences for supporters and sponsors. Many supporters will not agree with this move and may feel the players are getting above their station and that no decision about a new manager can be made now without their imprimatur. This will not go down well at county board level, where officials may feel their job is to make the big decisions and the players' job is to play.

Mayo have had wonderful support for many years. They come from all corners of the globe anytime there is a sniff of an All-Ireland. They say every year that they won't come back but airlines make a lot of money on these holidays in Ireland, which tend to coincide with big days in Croke Park. Many of these Mayo supporters abroad who have been successful are also the first to put their hands in their pockets when it comes to bankrolling the team. Will that continue if they feel that players are acting like judge and jury?

The other side of this is that these Mayo players have gone so close so often that they are unwilling to accept anything which could interfere with their chances of that All-Ireland title they crave.

Few could argue with that, and the window of opportunity will soon close. But this is a scorched earth policy now and the first to get burned are Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes.

Former Mayo joint-managers Pat Holmes (left) and Noel Connelly: ‘From the early weeks of their tenure there had been whispers that the players were unhappy’that
Former Mayo joint-managers Pat Holmes (left) and Noel Connelly: ‘From the early weeks of their tenure there had been whispers that the players were unhappy’that

Mayo are now into a Cork situation and the fall-out in that county has meant the worst of both worlds - a player revolt, bitterness and no great success either. Mayo are heading for a winter of discontent.

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, a small river in northern Italy in 49BC, it meant that he had irrevocably committed himself to war against the Roman State. The Mayo players have crossed their Rubicon. It is a brave stand which will cause much anger and personal hurt.

When Caesar finally decided to cross the Rubicon he said alea iacta est, the die has been cast. He went on to fame and glory as Roman Emperor. The Mayo players feel their hope of fame and glory does not lie with the present management. It is their form of war. I hope they know what they are doing. Some how, I doubt it.

Finally, I was privileged last Thursday to launch Sport and Ireland, a history by Paul Rouse. It is a great read.

Sunday Indo Sport

Read More

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport