Tuesday 21 November 2017

Have Mayo found their messiah after revolving door managerial chaos?

Stephen Rochford
Stephen Rochford

Eamon Carr

We couldn’t have guessed in October 2008 that the sub-committee recommending Pat Gilroy as the successor to Paul Caffrey as Dublin manager were signing off on an architectural plan for the reconstruction of a footballing citadel.

It seems apt that Kevin Heffernan and Pat O’Neill were two of the committee whose advice was heeded in the establishing of a new proud sporting dynasty.

Gilroy’s appointment coincided with the global launch of the music streaming service Spotify and, with Dublin aiming to add a third successive All-Ireland SFC title, it seems the same principles apply. Excellence and choice on demand.

It was a bumpy start though. Gilroy was inheriting a team that had, year after year, met with disappointment in their quest to capture the Sam Maguire.

Despite adding a fifth Leinster title in-a-row in 2009, Gilroy’s Dublin were trounced by Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final, a defeat Jason Sherlock has described as “the turning point of his time in charge”.

By then, Gilroy knew where the fault lines lay in his squad.

He understood what was required and, displaying the administrative and management skills which had impressed the county board, he set about designing a team to bridge the widening gap since team captain John O’Leary had lifted Sam Maguire in 1995.

Applying best practice business models to the situation, Gilroy was ruthless, but fair, in restructuring the Dublin senior panel and the support structures around it.

 In 2010, Dublin lost a semi-final by a point to eventual All-Ireland winners Cork.

The following year, Gilroy’s team ended 16 years of Dublin hurt beating Kerry in a thrilling final when Stephen Cluxton’s late, late point sailed between the posts in front of Hill 16.

The following year, Mayo beat Dublin in the semi-final.

The demands of orchestrating Dublin’s campaigns while running a successful business took its toll on Gilroy’s time and, citing the challenge of balancing those dual pressures with his family life, Pat stepped aside.

The Dublin set-up he handed over to incoming manager Jim Gavin was in a healthy state.

And, having managed the U21 team to All Ireland titles in 2010 and 2012, Gavin was perfectly placed to deal successfully with the concerns of replacing older players who were retiring.

By the time Dublin reached the All-Ireland final in 2013, Gavin had made his mark on the victorious side.

With Gavin tweaking the systems and supervising a range of training and administrative initiatives, Dublin have won five National League Division 1 titles and three All-Ireland titles.

By comparison, the team Dublin will meet on Sunday haven’t experienced the benefits of managerial consistency.

Since the autumn that Pat Gilroy took charge, the defining characteristic of Mayo’s management has been the revolving door.

John O’Mahony, who lead Mayo to an All-Ireland final in 1989, was back in charge for a second time in 2008, following the controversial departure of Mickey Moran in 2006, who’d guided the team to an All-Ireland final which, despite high hopes, they’d lost to Kerry.

Two years later, after being in the job for four years, he resigned following a shock defeat by Longford.

O’Mahony had hoped to lay the “foundations for a team of the future” and had some fine players in the development squad but Mayo were in a hurry.

In came James Horan in 2010. He guided Mayo to All Ireland finals in 2012 and 2013 but lost to Donegal and Dublin.

After four years at the helm, Horan stepped down.

He’s been critical of what he’s called “Mayo GAA Inc”, saying: “The team has a clear vision of what is needed to work in a high-performance environment.

“But I’m not sure that everything else around it has.”

Horan’s replacement came as a double act, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly.

Their aim was to remove all Mayo’s excuses for repeated failure at final or semi-final level.

It’s claimed some of the Mayo players took exception to their approach. Following a defeat by Dublin in a semi-final replay in 2015 (3-15 to 1-14), Holmes and Connelly bowed to player pressure and eventually resigned amid much controversy.

Under current manager Stephen Rochford, Mayo took reigning champ[ions Dublin to a replay last September.

When the final whistle blew after 78 minutes of action, Dublin retained their title on a slim one-point margin.

In reaching the final this year, Mayo had to beat Kerry in a semi-final replay. Rochford admits to pressure, saying: “You’re under the microscope.”

If Stephen Rochford is to be the man who finally helps Mayo to break their hoodoo, he has to defeat a Dublin team that, thanks to the guidance of Gilroy and Gavin, is becoming a football empire.

Online Editors

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