Wednesday 21 November 2018

'Galway are the second best team in the country right now' - Stephen Rochford

Stephen Rochford. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Rochford. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There are countless reasons why it's so important for Mayo to end their losing sequence against Galway this weekend that now stretches to four games across three different competitions.

Foremost among them is the general consensus that another qualifier campaign could, this time, draw the life out of them before they even made All-Ireland quarter-finals with a squad that doesn't just reach as deep as some of the game's other protagonists.

And even if they did reach that 'Super 8' promised land in July, going that qualifier route could potentially throw them into a four-team group with Dublin and Tyrone if those counties maintain their winning sequence in their respective provinces.

But Mayo's need in Connacht may just boil down to an old-fashioned desire to put their hands on some silverware again.

There may be bigger targets for a team that has come on such a journey but that shouldn't sidetrack re-engagement with the Nestor Cup again after a two-year falling out.

Read more: Murray toast of Wexford

Stephen Rochford has managed Mayo for 19 championship games over the last two seasons without winning a title and stresses the importance of provincial renewal again.

"It isn't about me but, as the manager of the team, it is about us getting our hands on a Connacht title.

Stephen Rochford. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Rochford. Photo: Sportsfile

"We went through decades, many decades ago, when we didn't win a Connacht title. We had five in a row then (2011-2015). People probably were thinking, with Mayo it is about later in the year, but no.

"A Connacht title was important to us and it is our preference to go the front-door route. We know the only way we can look to achieve that is by winning on Sunday."

Galway inflicted their latest defeat on Mayo in this year's league and Rochford says, on current form, the Tribesmen deserve the 'second best' tag that has hung around their own necks for the last few years.

"If anybody was trying to outline what was going to happen in the league from mid-January, if somebody was to say one team was going to go unbeaten in the league, I don't think anybody was going to pick Galway.

"We probably all would have said that it was going to be Dublin," he said to illustrate how much they have moved on as a team.

"So they've obviously moved on well from the 2016 team that beat us, and the 2017 team that beat us. On current form, they're the second-best team in the country, and that really highlights the quality that they have."

Rochford acknowledges that they are facing a more physical team in Castlebar than even last year.

"I know that there's been maybe a little bit more made of it than necessary, but they have a lot of big, physical guys.

"I don't see them being a particularly dirty team to be honest, or anything like that," he added.

Ambitions

"But if you're going to be the team that they've set their ambitions at, you won't be that pushover either."

Rochford took time out after last year's All-Ireland final to weigh up his future but admitted there was temptation straight away to indicate his intention to stay on.

"There were a lot of things that were telling me to make the decision there and then to go back, but there were a number of items to consider, in relation to the back-room team, player retirements, my own personal circumstances in relation to family and work.

"And then it was also seeking the support from the county board in relation to moving things on because although you may feel that you're competing at the top table, the top table continues to move, and, were we going to be moving with it?

"So it just took a little bit of time to have that dialogue, but my heart was always wanting to go back, or to see out my time.

"Someone within the management said, 'it's not a case of getting over it, you just adjust'. So it's the same as any instance in life, you get on with it, you go on and you try and learn from it but not having particularly sleepless nights about that more than the game coming up, just knowing that we prepared well, we played well but we didn't play as well as we had aspired to in that final."

Irish Independent

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