Sunday 11 December 2016

Player uprising will have an inevitable ending

History shows it’s hard to see a way back for Connelly/Holmes combination after players vote for change, writes Colm Keys

Published 30/09/2015 | 02:30

Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly on the line during Mayo’s FBD League game against NUI Galway in January
Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly on the line during Mayo’s FBD League game against NUI Galway in January

On the face of it Mayo's senior footballers had a year quite similar to last year. You could argue, on small margins alone, that it was even a little bit better.

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They won a Connacht with a greater degree of ease. Their All-Ireland quarter-final win against Donegal was much more convincing than the 2014 win over Cork had been.

And they again took the eventual All-Ireland champions Dublin to a replay, spurning a four-point lead - they had lost five- and seven-point leads at different stages to Kerry 12 months earlier - on the way.

When Lee Keegan went scything through the Dublin defence in the 43rd minute of the semi-final replay, he had a chance to put Mayo five clear. At the time it felt like Mayo had the foot on Dublin's throat. He dropped it short. Dublin didn't need another invitation.

Patrick Durcan did something similar from a comparative opportunity in the dying minutes of their last league game against Donegal. Had Durcan pointed it would have pushed that particular game out of Donegal's reach and earned a semi-final place.

Not that it was such a priority but it still helps to embellish how Mayo's form, the Dublin league defeat in Castlebar apart, held up well.

Dublin's emphatic All-Ireland final win over Kerry should have been an ironic comfort that they are still so close. But results on the balance sheet showing a graph moving horizontally across the page clearly weren't enough.

When Mayo captain Keith Higgins and vice-captain Cillian O'Connor conveyed the news of a vote of no confidence in the management to joint managers Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly on Sunday evening, they were 'burning the boats'. The point of no return had been reached.

A scheduled review of the season involving the two players, members of the management and County Board officials is due to go ahead tomorrow night but the die has been cast.

There is little point in having the backing of a board executive and club delegates if you don't have the majority of the dressing-room.

Successful

You have to think that when a group of players - the most successful in Mayo's modern history - come to such a conclusion that they don't believe in the management that they haven't done so lightly, that they have thought this through and weighed up the consequences of their actions.

They can't go back on what they have already said. To do so would show weakness and, in fairness to them, there hasn't been much evidence of that despite the attempts to paint them in such light in recent years.

That they didn't choose to try and iron out their grievances at a planned review shows how resolute they appear to be for change. They didn't care for the optics of shutting out a management team after just one year. They were strong-willed enough to move fast and go for it. As a squad they don't have many years left operating at this level.

If the 27-7 figures from the vote are accurate then the opposition from within the dressing-room is quite strong and will be impossible to reverse.

Whether that's right or wrong is now irrelevant. Unpalatable as it may be to many in Mayo, it's done. Players always have the whip-hand in these situations.

To win support though for their stance the players will still have to set out the specific reasons as to why they don't have faith in a management team that produced a similar set of results, year-on-year, to the previous incumbent.

Otherwise, it becomes an issue of personality. Faces didn't fit? Voices weren't right? Words weren't carefully chosen?

What exactly didn't convince them? Was it that the 'set-up' didn't have that same elite feel to it as they enjoyed under James Horan with whom the players enjoyed a great rapport, that they didn't feel they had the same stake holding as before?

Was it that things were that little bit chaotic under the regime and didn't have the same precision planning that they had become accustomed to?

All year there have been rumblings to that effect, that the management just hadn't been cutting it in a way that they might have been expected to.

Maybe it's tactical. If that's the case then there isn't a manager who has not lost a game at the highest level in recent years that doesn't have a case to answer.

Many of the current players won their only All-Ireland title, U-21 in 2006, under the Holmes-Connelly ticket.

Holmes has since got Castlebar Mitchels to an All-Ireland club final. After four years at the cutting edge of their sport they see things differently now. They weren't convinced.

Construed

It could be construed that this is the second successive management team that the Mayo players have now rejected.

An apparent reluctance to have Liam MacHale on board may have been a contributing factor to Kevin McStay not being appointed 12 months ago.

Resistance to dressing-room heaves never ends well. The perfect test case was Cork and Gerald McCarthy between 2008 and 2009.

McCarthy fought the good fight and took it as far as any beleaguered manager could. But all the support there was for him couldn't win the players' hearts back.

Even when managers depart under the cloud of player dissent their replacements never have it easy. Jack O'Shea's two years after Brian McDonald's ejection in Mayo 23 years ago weren't covered in glory.

This has been simmering beneath the surface since the week after their defeat to Dublin. There has been any amount of speculation as to who might take over if a vacancy arises, Horan's return and an audacious move to lure Jim McGuinness away from Celtic among them.

That's some way down the road yet. The balance of sympathy will weigh heavily in the management's favour. It always does.

But the pathway of these controversies, once they go public, rarely if ever changes. The Rubicon has been crossed.

Irish Independent

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