Wednesday 21 March 2018

Double act drawing on contrasting skills to find edge

Joint Mayo managers Pat Holmes, left, and Noel Connelly
Joint Mayo managers Pat Holmes, left, and Noel Connelly
Former Mayo boss John Maughan
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

John Maughan was only a few weeks in to his mission to 'transform the culture' in Mayo football back in the autumn of 1995 when he saw an unexpected leader emerging before his eyes.

Noel Connelly hadn't carried a huge reputation with him into Maughan's new world but for what the manager wanted and how he planned to get there, Connelly was the perfect fit for what he had in mind.

So Connelly became captain of his county at the age of 23. A surprise choice to some but the right one, Maughan recalls with some clarity now.


"I wouldn't have known much about him but he jumped out at me in those first few weeks," recalled Maughan.

Mayo's implosion in the previous few years since John O'Mahony's departure had left the county at its lowest ebb and Maughan prescribed some of the toughest medicine that any inter-county team at the time had to endure. In that environment Connelly positively thrived.

"He is an inspirational figure. He is small in stature but had a huge heart for it then, was a role model in everything he did, had charisma and was popular with the players.

"He might not have been a household name but he had great motivational powers. We were trying to change the psyche of Mayo football at the time, bring it a certain direction and were asking a bit more of the players. Noel was the ideal man to front that," recalls Maughan.

In a dressing-room laden with vocal presence, from Liam McHale and David Brady to the former manager James Horan, it was Connelly who put his hand up highest for captaincy.

On the other wing, Pat Holmes carried a less abrasive presence but was no less effective during those years. His idea and vision about how football could be played was something that always struck Maughan in those years.

Maughan sees perfectly complementary skills in the pair now charged with bringing continuity to Mayo's ongoing effort to land the prize that has eluded them for almost 64 years now.

A mix between the passionate motivator and strategist renowned for his eye to detail?

"I wouldn't disagree with that," said Maughan."Maybe it's not just a simple as that. I'm sure they can mix it around and do but they do bring those complementary skills to the table."

Billy Joe Padden spent just a year in the dressing-room with Connelly the captain and Holmes the manager in 2001 and recalls a similar dynamic.

"I was only short time in his company but you just knew of Noel 'here's a fella that knows how to be a captain," recalls Padden.

"He knew how to lead the troops. He was a very clear speaker who knew how to get the point across. There was blood and guts from him for sure but it always had a point. He was sophisticated in what he said. He made it clear the way players should be thinking coming into a game."

Connelly's career ended as Maughan came in for his 'second coming' at the end of 2002, the offer of a coaching role not appealing to his former captain at the time. Joint management teams have had success in Gaelic games in the past. Mickey Moran and John Morrison may have been 'released' after just a year in Mayo in 2006 but in reaching an All-Ireland final via a Connacht title their term has to be viewed favourably. Brian McAlinden and Brian Canavan steered Armagh to two Ulster titles in 1999 and 2000, prior to Joe Kernan's arrival which tends to overshadow what they achieved in those formative years. And Armagh's perennial club champions Crossmaglen Rangers claimed back-to-back All-Ireland club titles in recent years through the efforts of Tony McEntee and Gareth O'Neill working in tandem.

"Joint managers don't have to agree on everything but I think there has to be some sort of friendship there first and foremost. There has to be a connection and there clearly is here," reflects Maughan. "To be honest, I couldn't have seen one taking on this job without the other at this stage."

Padden also feels the dynamic between them is right. "It's not a case that one was forced upon the other. With Mickey Moran and John Morrison it was the same, there was never an issue between them. But I was with Armagh when Paul Grimley came in to assist Paddy O'Rourke and I never got the sense that it was perfect harmony."

For 28 years, between the All-Ireland minor success of 1985 and 2013, they were Mayo's only All-Ireland winning management.

With Castlebar Mitchels, Holmes continued to show that capacity to organise and to tend to detail.

Their appointment may have been messy, not of their own doing, as the board jumped the gun somewhat leaving early front-runner Kevin McStay under no illusion that he was getting the job. But last Sunday's victory over Kerry gives them space.

Coming after James Horan, who set such high standards and was so respected by the players, is a challenge in itself. But between them they should tick a lot of the boxes.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport