Tuesday 6 December 2016

'I knew these boys would come back, it was never in doubt' - Stephen Rochford

Published 19/09/2016 | 02:30

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford shakes hands with referee Conor Lane after yesterday’s drawn All-Ireland SFC final. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford shakes hands with referee Conor Lane after yesterday’s drawn All-Ireland SFC final. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

As Dean Rock lined up a free that he would convert into the Davin End to bring a fractured and at times calamitous first half to a conclusion, there was interesting sub-plot at the other end.

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Jonny Cooper had his back to the play and was eyeballing Andy Moran at close quarters with the type of snarling 'in your face' policing that he has brought to his game in recent years.

Moran sought to get a look at Rock's kick but Cooper tilted his body in what looked like an attempt to block the view.

There may have been chatter, there may not have been. From that distance it was impossible to determine.

Brushed

But when Rock pointed and referee Conor Lane drew the half to a close, Cooper just smiled and brushed off Moran before sprinting off to the Dublin dressing-room.

Moran shook his head. The scoreboard showed an advantage to Dublin but psychologically it felt even greater. Cooper's smile might have encapsulated what we all felt at that time.

How do you return to a dressing-room having invested so much for so little, having held every one of your opponents' starting forwards scoreless and having coughed up the least amount of scores to this Dublin team in a championship game under the current management, yet still find yourself so far adrift?

And after all that had gone for so many years before?

The answer was swift and delivered by Moran himself in the first minutes of the second half. So often the heartbeat of this Mayo team, he took it upon himself to deliver the first point of the rescue mission, just as he had done in the drawn All-Ireland semi-final last year when they found themselves seven points down.

Perhaps no other player encapsulates the spirit and relentlessness within this group better than their former captain.

Their courage may never be properly reflected in the gleam of silver but it's there, palpable on these big days when you feel it ebbing away on them.

Two own-goals, four starting Dublin forwards held scoreless from play, so many unforced errors of their own. Will they ever have a better opportunity?

"I just find it interesting that ye had us all written off before we played the game and now you are asking us if we are frustrated that we didn't win," reflected Moran.

So much reflection on how poor Dublin were and how much better they will be the next day, yet Mayo have already identified scope for major improvement themselves.

"I think the over-riding emotion is, did we play well? Absolutely not. Did we miss the boat? Absolutely not," added Moran.

"We came back from certain stages when we were down. We kept fighting. Ye boys keep writing us off, we will keep coming back, you know.

"We have the theory that we can compete against anyone and we came out in the second half and showed that.

"It took great courage from Cillian (O'Connor), our captain, to stand up and be the man there in the last minute, the 77th minute of an All-Ireland final. He kicks that score over the bar.

"It took a lot of courage from a lot of people. A lot of mistakes made but they put their hands up to keep playing."

O'Connor probably shouldn't have been on the field at that stage, having yanked down Dublin substitute Darren Daly in what looked like a clear black card offence, but his steel nerves once again manifested themselves with that late equaliser.

"That's why he's our leader, our captain. He's just coolness personified," observed Lee Keegan.

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford wasn't in the business of garnering sympathy or solace for what had happened with those goals or the plight they faced at half-time.

"My heart didn't sink," he said. "We still had 60 minutes to rectify it. My job isn't to feel sorry for myself or the group or all of Mayo. My job is to see can we do something a bit better. 'Why did that happen? Can we be sure it doesn't happen again? We didn't do a good job on that.'

"We have a fortnight to look at why that happened because I think there could be a pattern to it and make sure it doesn't happen again. That is my job.

"I knew the boys would come back. You don't go down to see them train in Castlebar and when they go three or four points down thinking 'ah we're just going to wave the white flag.' That was never in doubt.

"There is plenty of character in the group and I expect the boys to get their heads down. There is a lot of desire in the group. I said it to the boys inside, put up your hand if you felt you had your best game today. There was nobody putting their hand up."

What perplexed him most was the manner in which they kicked or fisted ball after ball away so needlessly when a touch of patience would have served them much better.

Even some of their most experienced players, Seamus O'Shea, Keith Higgins and Aidan O'Shea blinked too quickly with ball in hand at crucial times in the second half.

"We didn't play well on the ball," said Rochford. "Off the ball, yes there were periods when we did well. I wouldn't be happy with the way we made our periods of possession dominance count on the scoreboard.

"Both teams feel they have things they can improve on.

Scope

"We felt we contributed to the concession of two goals, even if some felt they may have been unlucky. But you make your own luck. We know that there is still serious scope to improve."

The afternoon had begun with a bout of pushing and shoving between them as Dublin lined up for their team photograph, quickly followed by an emerging Mayo who were on their tails.

Denis Bastick barged into Aidan O'Shea as he approached the bench, Michael Darragh Macauley and Keith Higgins followed in before calm were restored and Mayo were corralled by officials over to their warm up area.

But Rochford was adamant it was nothing more than a timing issue, with Mayo a minute behind their own scheduled arrival on the field, not any attempt to lay down a marker 10 years on from Mayo's invasion of the Hill 16 end for their pre-match warm up.

"Just in case anyone is going to look into it, co-incidental," said Rochford.

"Nothing went into it. These things happen, so ye can all nail that on the head."

Irish Independent

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