Saturday 21 September 2019

Martin Breheny: Don't lecture Holmes and Connelly on loyalty to Mayo football - they've done it a huge service

Current Mayo manager Stephen Rochford (left) and ex-Mayo joint managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes (Right).
Current Mayo manager Stephen Rochford (left) and ex-Mayo joint managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes (Right).
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If a thunderstorm helps to clear the air, then the atmosphere around the Mayo football camp heading into next season should be clear and crisp.

Granted, there might be initial awkwardness between some players, arising from the candid interview with Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly in the Irish Independent last Saturday but, presumably, it will pass fairly quickly.

It has to if Mayo are not only to regain the momentum of recent seasons but find that little extra required to take them over the elusive line into All-Ireland title land. Reaction to the interview has been largely supportive of the two ex-managers, who were forced out by a squad revolt last year.

Naturally, there have been exceptions, including truly bizarre comments by some media commentators that it was wrong of Holmes and Connelly to reveal any details of what went on inside the camp during 2015. What's this? The media advocating silence? How perverse is that?

The pair gave their version of events clearly and honestly, which made for far more interesting reading than the bland exchanges that have become so common in modern-day sports interviews.

Here's a question for those who claim Holmes and Connelly should have remained silent, despite harbouring deeply personal reasons for wanting to give their side of a story, for which the agenda was set by players who refused to state what their grievances were.

What harm have Holmes and Connelly done by telling it as they saw it? After all, they were the ones at the receiving end of a blunt demand to the county board that their one-year stint as joint-managers not be extended.

Of course, it wasn't put that politely. Instead, the board were instructed to 'remove' the managers inside four days or face a strike.

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The only favourable reference in the squad's statement noted that the squad 'would like to acknowledge Pat and Noel for their services'. The tone and content of that letter more than entitled Holmes and Connelly to speak out. Even then, they took considerable time over their decision, carefully avoiding this year's playing season while coming in before the 2017 campaign.

The squad got rid of the management without giving them any reason and now Holmes and Connelly have responded with their side of the story. How dare anybody question their right to do that? The players had no compunction about inflicting reputational damage on the managers so they can hardly complain about a measured response. The reality is that Holmes and Connelly have done Mayo football a huge service.

Stephen Rochford certainly has reason to welcome their intervention since it brings issues into the open that many people knew were lurking in the background. Okay, so they may not have been aware of the precise details, but plenty of rumours were circulating for a long time.

Now it's out in the open, complete with the message that, shall we say, this squad - or certainly elements within it - is not the easiest to manage. Surely that strengthens Rochford's hand as he heads into his second year, provided of course that he seizes the chance to show who is boss.

Irrelevant

As for the players, they will ultimately be judged on whether they end the All-Ireland drought, rather than on side issues.

If they succeed, the past becomes irrelevant and they will take their places as heroic figures in Mayo football history. However, if they fail, they will be remembered as no more than a team that won several Connacht titles and launched a management heave against two men who were in power for a year.

The latter would be a miserable legacy for an undoubtedly talented group. Hopefully for their own sake, they recognise that and act accordingly.

Meanwhile, their former colleague Ronan McGarrity declared that "any criticism Mayo players get is wrong". He has 'no time for that' and claimed it "was a bit of a mystery" why Holmes and Connelly had spoken out.

Check what happened, Ronan. Was it okay for the squad to inflict huge reputational damage on Holmes and Connelly, yet when the managers respond it's deemed to be disloyal.

There are times when real loyalty is displayed by calling things as they are, which is what Holmes and Connelly have done.

Irish Independent

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