Tuesday 21 February 2017

Martin Breheny: Rossies risk going off the rails

Published 19/10/2016 | 02:30

Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell in conversation during the SFC qualifier defeat to Clare – a game which proved their last as Roscommon joint managers. After a parting of the ways, McStay is set to take the reins on his own. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Kevin McStay and Fergal O’Donnell in conversation during the SFC qualifier defeat to Clare – a game which proved their last as Roscommon joint managers. After a parting of the ways, McStay is set to take the reins on his own. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

As Roscommon prepared to leave Letterkenny in high spirits after beating Donegal last March, Kevin McStay attempted to put context on an unexpected four-match winning run.

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They had beaten Cork, Kerry, Donegal (all away) and Down (home), leaving Dublin as the only ones ahead of them on the Division 1 table. They had, effectively, secured a semi-final place with two games remaining. Not bad for a team that started the campaign as odds-on favourites for relegation.

"Today, we started looking like a Division 1 team who deserves on merit to be here," said McStay.

A month later, Roscommon were trimmed by Kerry in the semi-final. By mid-July, they were retreating from Castlebar after being flattened by Galway in the Connacht final replay and six days later their season was over following a six-point defeat by Clare.

Come early September and the aftermath of the slump prompted the departure of Fergal O'Donnell, who had linked up with McStay on a joint-managerial ticket last autumn. Selectors Stephen Bohan and David Casey also left.

O'Donnell's parting shot was direct and feisty. He claimed that "a concerted effort has been made (outside of management and players) to undermine and disparage us".

The statement added that the departures were made "with a view to removing the inevitable distraction that would result from a potentially divisive contest for the position of manager between myself and Kevin (McStay)."

It was a long way from the excitement which followed the dual appointment on a so-called dream ticket last October. And, in an interview in our Championship 2016 magazine in May, McStay spoke of his admiration for the former Roscommon senior and minor manager and how he would not have become involved without O'Donnell.

It's reasonable to assume from O'Donnell's statement last month that the relationship between the two men fractured during the summer. Why else would O'Donnell leave and mention the possibility of a 'divisive contest' with McStay?

Of course, a lot changed after mid-March. Up to then, Roscommon had won four of five games against top-line opposition but managed only two more wins, against New York, where they were lucky to survive, and Leitrim in eight league and championship outings over the next four months.

O'Donnell's departure appeared to have left the way clear for McStay to continue as the main man, but the position was re-opened and attracted the interest of Roscommon U-21 manager Nigel Dineen. However, it too ended with a withdrawal last week and a statement where Dineen expressed "strong reservations about the integrity of the selection process".

He claimed that "similar influences are at play behind the scenes, which were clearly prevalent at the time of the demise of the O'Donnell/McStay joint-management structure".

So who are the mysterious forces that O'Donnell and Dineen spoke about? Is their power real or imaginary? And what's their motivation? If that isn't intriguing enough, the question of the players' attitude also arises.

It's reported that they are divided in their approach on who they want in charge for 2017. They are unlikely to force the issue but it can't be very comfortable territory for McStay if a section of the dressing-room is less than enthusiastic about the regime.

Misgivings

Of course, the misgivings could be attributable to loyalty to O'Donnell rather than doubts about McStay but nevertheless it's an unwelcome distraction.

The danger for Roscommon, a county with a history of managerial upheaval, is that the latest outbreak of turbulence will set them back at a time when the county is perceived to have lots of talent.

Roscommon got a very favourable draw in next year's Connacht championship - London or Leitrim stand between them and a place in the final - but first there's a Division 1 campaign to be negotiated in the following order: Tyrone (a) Donegal (h),Mayo (a), Kerry (h),Monaghan (a), Dublin (a), Cavan (h).

Working through that will be difficult enough without any residue unease from the messy saga which has been played out in recent weeks. I wonder if McStay gets any pangs of regret over swapping 'The Sunday Game' and his Evening Herald column for all this?

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