Tuesday 20 February 2018

Dick Clerkin - Stephen Rochford had the courage to make a bold call with Aidan O'Shea

Kieran Donaghy of Kerry in conversation with Aidan O'Shea of Mayo during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kerry and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Kieran Donaghy of Kerry in conversation with Aidan O'Shea of Mayo during the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kerry and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Paddy Durcan of Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile

Dick Clerkin

A manager's job is not to make good decisions; it is simply to make decisions. Ability and experience then dictates if it proves good or bad.

Whether it is in the workplace or on the side-line, he who the buck stops with puts his head on the block every time they have to make a big call. That is why they get the big bucks, figuratively speaking!

Stephen Rochford, not for the first time, certainly didn't shy away from making a big call when faced with the challenge of nullifying the threat of Kieran Donaghy going into yesterday's All-Ireland semi-final.

Leading up to the game, rumours surfaced of the possibility that Aidan O'Shea would go back to pick up Kieran Donaghy. However, few in a rain-sodden Croke Park could believe their eyes when he did switch back to the unfamiliar full-back position.

Midway through the first half when O'Shea commanded a high ball, the roar from the Mayo crowd gave an apparent approval of Rochford's bold call. However, as the game progressed, Donaghy used his instinctive awareness and experience to drag Aidan around and out of position. Creating space and opportunities for himself and those around him, Donaghy's roving role arguably trumped any aerial impact O'Shea had made.

Having taken the reins as player-manager this year for my own club, I have a new found appreciation for the pressure that goes with management. On Saturday evening, we played our local rivals Clones in a championship quarter-final. In the first half, the tactics we had worked on all week had worked a treat. Playing some of our best football all year, we went in at half-time eight points up.

Defending a stiff breeze in the second half, I decided to drop a sweeper back and close out the game. Overly confident in my managerial acumen, I was about to get my first big lesson in the school of managerial ups-and-downs. Using their extra man outfield to good effect, our opponents quickly took control as we completely lost our shape. They took scores from distance and their go-for-broke approach was reaping dividends against our conservative formation.

Approaching the end of normal time we found ourselves a point in arrears. I could hear the knives sharpening, as it was clear that my half-time decision was ill-conceived. Thankfully, we have a player of the calibre of Jack McCarron who took the game by the scruff of the neck, and scored two points in injury-time to edge us over the line.

I don't think I have ever felt a sense of relief like it. So when Paddy Durcan got up to score Mayo's equaliser yesterday, I can just imagine what Stephen Rochford was thinking. He knew his call on Aidan O'Shea, regardless of anything else, would be held against him had they lost.

Working on the sideline for Sky Sports yesterday, it was fascinating to watch the activity on the touchline. Especially coming into the closing stages. Whatever about the referee taking it in the ear for bad calls, the poor linesmen and fourth officials certainly had their hands full.

After yesterday's second half, Ciaran Brannigan from Down should consider a profession in counselling such was his ability to quell the fury of opposing camps on numerous occasions. At one stage I thought the opposing maor foirne, Tony McEntee and Mike Hassett, were going to go at it such was the passion and intensity shown by the respective selectors for Kerry and Mayo.

Substitution calls were all a mini-conference, with several seats around each table. The final call still rests with the manager, and in those intense moments he rolls the dice knowing a wrong call will be held squarely against him should it not work out. I certainly appreciate that now after my own close encounter on Saturday.

Summarising the game, it would be easy to take aim at Rochford on account of his call on Aidan O'Shea. Everyone is aware of the aerial threat posed by Donaghy and how he has the potential to wreak havoc, either directly or as supplier, against a suspect Mayo full-back.

Neither Donaghy, Paul Geaney nor James O'Donoghue got a meaningful shot on goal, and few high balls rained in on the Mayo square all afternoon. Going onto the field, I'm fairly sure Rochford would have taken that outcome on his O'Shea decision. Personally, considering the greasy conditions that were underfoot, I think another less influential player than O'Shea could have had a similar impact on Donaghy.

The potential impact of their 'new' full-back out the field would have been more advantageous to Mayo, as their tired legs stretched for home.

Back in 2006, with Kerry struggling for form, Jack O'Connor took the brave move to place Donaghy on the square. The rest as they say is history.

Rochford made a similarly bold call yesterday that is sure to be debated all week as to whether it worked or not. Whatever we all think about his team selections, they are his decisions to make at the end of the day; hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes.

When you consider the effort and unity among his players, one can only surmise they feel he makes more good decisions than bad. Just as long as he never drops a sweeper back to defend an eight point half time lead, against a breeze. That would be simply unforgivable!

Irish Independent

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