Sunday 22 September 2019

Stephen Rochford can expect intense scrutiny as he attempts to recalibrate Mayo

Stephen Rochford playing with Crossmolina in 2006
Stephen Rochford playing with Crossmolina in 2006
Stephen Rochford’s brief will be brutally simple – win the All-Ireland before this Mayo squad breaks up
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

Kieran Fitzgerald had spotted the danger even before the Corofin squad left Croke Park after winning the All-Ireland club football final last St Patrick's Day.

"I'd imagine Mayo will be looking for that guy back, sooner rather than later. Whether we can hold onto him now, I have my doubts. He has been super for us," said the former Galway All-Ireland-winning defender.

'That guy' was Stephen Rochford, who had become the first man to win an All-Ireland club medal as a player (Crossmolina 2001) and later preside over another club's march to glory.

Fitzgerald suspected that Corofin's success under Rochford would attract Mayo's attention, although having been previously overlooked for the U-21 job, it wasn't immediately apparent where he might be facilitated.

Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly were in the very early stages of their reign as joint managers so no vacancy was expected there for quite some time. So despite Fitzgerald's fears, it appeared that Rochford wouldn't be on green-and-red duty for the foreseeable future.

Just under eight months later, Holmes and Connelly are gone, having been ruthlessly ousted by a mutinous squad, and Rochford is the only nominee for the vacant manager's job.

The background work could take a few weeks but, barring some unforeseen development, Rochford will be the new Mayo manager before the end of November.

He is attending to other business at present, managing Corofin as they bid to retain the Connacht title. They play St Mary's (Sligo) in the semi-final next Sunday. Presumably, his appointment in Mayo won't be formalised until Corofin's interest in Connacht - either as winners or deposed champions - is over.

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What happens if Corofin retain the title and head for an All-Ireland semi-final next February remains to be seen, since it would be quite a workload for Rochford to oversee their preparations as well as moving into senior inter-county management.

Besides, the circumstances in which Rochford is taking over in Mayo are far from normal so he will have to give the job his undivided attention from the start.


Rochford's brief is brutally simple: win the All-Ireland before this squad breaks up. And since Mayo are bidding for a sixth successive Connacht title next year, there's a feeling that it could be a make-or-break season for many of the panel.

There's an upside there too for the incoming boss. The squad showed its ruthlessness by launching a heave against Holmes and Connelly so they have to do things Rochford's way.

They couldn't possibly object to anything he proposes, lest they be dubbed an unmanageable group, whose talents don't match their ambitions.

In some ways, there are similarities between Mayo and Corofin at the time Rochford took over for the 2013 season. Corofin were continuing to do well in Galway but there was a feeling that they should be doing better in Connacht and beyond. Some shrewd power brokers in the club reckoned that it was time to break with tradition and look for an outside manager.

They could have opted for a big name but, instead, their research took them in Rochford's direction.

A six-time county senior championship winner with Crossmolina, he had been involved with Mayo minor teams and GMIT college teams where reports on his approach were very encouraging.

Besides, he had only just finished playing so Corofin adjudged that the balance was right.

They had acquired a relatively low-profile manager, who was very much in tune with modern trends.

It was the perfect match, as Corofin's success over recent seasons has shown. Kieran Fitzgerald said after the All-Ireland final win last March that Rochford's attention to detail was so great that every angle and possible eventuality had been covered.

"He's a cool customer. He doesn't get too excited. We were as prepared as I ever saw a team prepared," he said.

Given that Fitzgerald, an All Star winner in 2001 at the age of 20, had worked under John O'Mahony, Peter Ford and various other managers, that was high praise indeed.

Rochford, a 37-year-old AIB bank branch manager in Castlerea, never thought that his long-held ambition to manage Mayo would arrive in such dramatic circumstances.

The fact that he is the only nominee for one of the most prestigious managerial jobs suggests that clubs were unanimous in the view that he should be given a chance at what is a very delicate time in Mayo's football history.

His success with Corofin has raised his profile but he can now expect to come under far more intense scrutiny as he attempts to recalibrate Mayo for what will be a massive test next year.

Big interest will focus on the appointments to his backroom but there has been speculation for some time that it would include former Tony McEntee, an Armagh All-Ireland winner in 2002, who was later a successful manager of his home club, Crossmaglen Rangers. He managed Dublin club St Brigid's this year.

Irish Independent

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