Friday 13 December 2019

Managerial mishaps add to Mayo's tales of woe in frustrating year

Noel Connelly is joint-manager of Mayo alongside Pat Holmes
Noel Connelly is joint-manager of Mayo alongside Pat Holmes
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The plan was for Sam Maguire to be touring Mayo this week, excitedly re-acquainting himself with places he hadn’t seen for 63 years.

The reality is of a county tearing common sense apart, caught up in a wholly unnecessary managerial mess. It certainly wasn’t where Mayo football expected to find itself in the week after the All-Ireland final.

And while it doesn’t materially weaken the position of the new management team, led by Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes, it is embarrassing for them, even before they are formally ratified.

Those charged with finding a replacement for James Horan were perfectly entitled to choose whoever they thought best suited to the set-up at a time when, despite the disappointment of the All-Ireland semi-final defeat, Mayo are still very much among the elite.

They are priced third favourites (6/1) behind Dublin and Kerry for the 2015 All-Ireland title, a ranking that’s very much in keeping with the stature they accumulated under Horan over four seasons. After all, Mayo were so close to beating Kerry last month that it still pains them greatly.

The challenge facing the county board leaders was to replace Horan with a well-qualified management team, which would build on the momentum of the last few years.

The Connelly-Holmes pairing had an impressive look about it; so too did the Kevin McStay-Liam McHale package.

Mayo were lucky to have such two strong line-ups interested and available for the job so all that remained was that the process be handled carefully, leading to an eventual recommendation coming before a full meeting of the county board. It looked like the essence of basic administration.

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Instead, it has turned into a farce, amid claims of flawed procedures, which have led to acrimony and anger. McHale has stated that he will never again put himself forward for any position with a Mayo team. One suspects that McStay might be similarly disinclined to become involved at a later stage either.

The statement announcing the appointment of Connelly and Holmes was issued last Saturday, which seemed rather surprising timing. Still, it seemed like no more than a sign of the determination by Mayo to conclude the appointment process as quickly as possible.

Quite why such speed was required is a matter of conjecture, since it was only three weeks since Horan’s departure. Besides, some members of the Mayo executive believed that the appointment process was ongoing, only to discover on Saturday night that Connelly/Holmes were being recommended.

It reflects poorly on the decision-makers that the affair has been handled so badly, bringing Mayo the sort of attention normally associated with less efficient administrations. McStay and McHale deserved better, as indeed did Connelly and Holmes.

For, while it’s most unlikely that there will be any objections to their ratification, it places them in an awkward position right from the start.

Sloppily

What if Mayo hit a bad spell next year? Will there be jibes to the effect that they only got the job because the appointment process was handled sloppily? That won’t distract them, but it’s still unfortunate at the outset that they should find themselves linked to a controversy, which has nothing to do with them. 

Tonight’s county board meeting will be very interesting, with chairman Paddy McNicholas facing some tough questions on how and why the managerial appointment process has generated such controversy. The answers should be equally interesting.

Still, whatever the outcome, this is the last thing Mayo football needed right now. Kerry’s win over Donegal last Sunday added to their frustration, following two desperately close semi-final clashes, so the sooner it was all put behind them the better.

The managerial transition should have been quite smooth, but instead it has become very messy.

One intriguing question arises from rumours that some players didn’t want McHale involved because of comments he had made in the past.

If that played any part in the process, then it reflects even worse on all concerned, since players should not be involved in managerial selection decisions.

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