Monday 23 September 2019

'It's only out on the field you can answer back' - Stephen Rochford and Mayo ready to tackle the qualifiers once again

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Mayo and Galway at Elvery's MacHale Park in Mayo. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford during the Connacht GAA Football Senior Championship Quarter-Final match between Mayo and Galway at Elvery's MacHale Park in Mayo. Photo by Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Yesterday morning, Mayo boss Stephen Rochford pulled out his phone and watched the qualifier draw unfold. He wouldn't say it, but the draw was kind to his side.

Limerick, who won one game in Division Four and lost out to Clare in Munster by 12 points, are their first-round opponents.

Mayo were vulnerable at this stage 12 months ago and needed extra-time to see off Derry. That out-of-form Limerick are their first-round opponents should help them find their feet. But for Rochford, the approach would have to be the same no matter who they were paired with.

"The reality is, when we look back on the Galway game, we're very much looking at ourselves, with regards to what we can improve on," said Rochford, at the announcement that AIB are to extend their sponsorship of the GAA for five more years.

"And that will continue to be our focus, with one eye sort of on Limerick as well, but looking to do what we want to do - better, crisper and lift our level performance."

The defeat to Galway lives fresh in the mind. It was the third year on the bounce they have gone down to their biggest rivals, but Rochford prefers the glass-half-full view of that match.


Their conversion rate was poor, he admits, but he points out that they created the chances and took shots from the right areas. Also, they weren't out of the game until an injury-time goal finished them off despite playing with 14 men for the majority of the game.

And that's why he doesn't buy into talk that it might be too much to ask this Mayo side to navigate its way back to the Super 8 and beyond. The boom and bust nature of the commentary around his team is something he can't concern himself with.

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"We have dealt with it in the past. It's only out on the field you can answer that back. We are all big enough to understand that it's either North Pole or South Pole with Mayo.

"It's either, 'Jaysus, they are going to do this', or 'Jaysus, look at what they just did'.

"You know, ourselves, we are never at either of those two points. We understand that, had we won that game by a point there was still a lot within it that we didn't do right. When we conceded a goal in injury time, that didn't really change it a whole lot.

"Look, it brings a different element of focus. We can't do anything in relation to the noise that's [outside]. We can only really focus on ourselves. Let's focus on the next game and ensure that we are right and deliver a winning performance."

They'll be without Diarmuid O'Connor for that match after he was sent off against Galway. It continued a worrying trend with Mayo, who have had a man sent off in each of the last three Championship matches that they have lost. It's something they have attempted to address.

"They were all games which we've ended up losing by a score," Rochford reflected. "I think what you're seeing is, in many ways, they're isolated incidents.

"If you look at Diarmuid's - and it's no way to disagree with the incident, we're all in agreement that it was a sending off; a high arm to the head is something that Gaelic football doesn't want to see in the game - I do think that it was, in many ways, riding the tackles. He had been fouled.

"In that, I don't think it's a case where we're creating fracas all over the field or anything like that. They're isolated incidents but it's something that, as a group, we've spoken about and we're conscious of it and we know that it's as much self-harm as anything else and something that we're really conscious of and looking to address."

With the likes of Leeroy Keegan, Cillian O'Connor, Donal Vaughan and Brendan Harrison getting closer to full fitness, Mayo's panel should be close to full strength for the trip to Limerick.

Tom Parsons remains a long-term absentee after his horror injury but Rochford indicated that the Charlestown man had already targeted Mayo's Connacht championship opener next year as a possible comeback.

"There's certainly an appetite from Tom and he's already talking about being ready for New York in May of next year and that's evidence of the spirit and determination the guy has.

"Really [it's about] getting the surgery, getting the rehab done on that and preparing him for the second surgery and then the full rehab. The road to getting back playing starts, then, in mid-to-late August. The next couple of weeks are really crucial in being able to lay the foundations.

"This is a guy who went across the water and was working and living in Wales and was commuting back to Mayo and was out in the wilderness in terms of the county setup. But he came back in 2014 and really, he's vice-captain on our team and is very much a leader on and off the field and is a great personality and a downright good human being. He's a big loss to us but those are the cards you are dealt."

Last year Mayo diced with death in the qualifiers before arguably coming as close as ever to finally winning an All-Ireland title. But can Mayo go to the well and summon the appetite to find their way back to the business end of things this time around?

"The proof will be in the pudding," he offers. "We are big enough to understand that. That question has been asked over that team since 2014 and maybe even on the back of the 2012 and 2013 All-Ireland final losses too, so really it's external noise.

"We'll look at whether we have the appetite to beat Limerick now. We'll take it game by game and week by week and try to get ourselves in a physical and mental state of mind that gets us up for each and every one of those challenges that will play out."

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