'There was an agenda against Lee Keegan' - Mayo boss Rochford points finger at former Dublin players
Lee Keegan was the focus of an agenda last week by former Dublin players consistently highlighting his policing methods of Diarmuid Connolly in the drawn game, Mayo manager Stephen Rochford suggested yesterday.
As Mayo prepared to depart their City West base in Dublin for yet another empty-handed journey home after an All-Ireland final, Rochford was keen to be spared the 'hard luck' narrative.
But while refusing to be critical of referee Maurice Deegan over a "harsh" black or acknowledging that he may have come under pressure from the commentary and Connolly's robust protestations, Rochford said he was in little doubt about the message being put across.
"Lee Keegan is one of the most mentally tough, honest-to-God football guys I have ever met," he said. "I don't think it knocked a breeze out of him but I am under no illusions there was an agenda out there, which I think is unfortunate. It is unfortunate that former players would feel it necessary to get into that, guys that haven't always been whiter than white. But look, that's for them to deal with their own consciences." As to whether it was orchestrated, he said he didn't know, adding: "It is coincidental, four or five days in a row. So be it."
Rochford believes referees need greater support for crucial calls.
"I think the angle that Maurice had, it put him under a bit of pressure but maybe the umpire or linesmen on that open side saw that it was actually a genuine challenge to come round.
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"A little bit awkward maybe, but there was no (intent). Diarmuid (Connolly) wasn't in control of the ball. He was going for the ball and it was still a long distance from goal but Lee was such an important player for us. Going into that home stretch, it was disappointing not to have him."
With games stretching on longer because of the additional time - Saturday's replay was 86 minutes when stoppages were added - Rochford believes video assistance is something officials should be able to call on.
"By my knowledge, there are maybe up to 10 or 12 people interacting on ear pieces and microphones," he said. "Out of those 12, there is definitely scope for somebody to be looking at a video clip, saying 'Maurice, it's not as clear-cut as we thought here. Or it is'. "Or maybe, like in rugby, where they say 'my position on the field is this - can you assist?'. Thirty seconds probably gives you a fair indication. And you look at how long it has taken for a card, it is taking them probably a minute.
"So while he is gathering his thoughts or communicating, saying 'look, I have a position here, can we confirm it or not? Is it blatant or is it not?'. "Everybody in the stadium saw a definite hand trip (John Small) in the first quarter of the game. That's deliberate. Again, the referee may not see it because of an angle he is at or some fella lying on the ground, but it's unfortunate.
"Look, Dublin lost James McCarthy in the first game and we lose two guys in this game. That's the way the cookie crumbles," he conceded.
Rochford accepted that the call to replace goalkeeper David Clarke with Rob Hennelly beforehand was "rightly" coming under scrutiny.
"Robbie was No1 throughout the league and then David came back in (after Galway game). It wasn't an easy decision because of a guy (David) that had played five or six championship games, but our analysis of Dublin would have given us the sense they were looking to squeeze up on the kick-out - Robbie gave us a little bit more range. It didn't work in some instances, Robbie will hold his hand up on that and so will we.
"People must remember that the goal came off one of his kick-outs. Donal Vaughan on the run, with distance, and we were able to hit them. You make an error in the full-back line or goalie and it's magnified because it is the most crucial area of the field.
"A guy makes the same mistake at the far end and people forget it by the time it hits midfield. That's the nature of these things. It won't be simple on Robbie any more than ourselves."
Mayo led on just three different occasions for a cumulative total of 15 minutes over the 167 or so minutes it took for the draw and replay to play out, which left them chasing for far too long. Ultimately, Dublin's collective defence and counter-attack through fresh legs won this game.
Rochford felt momentum ebbed from them with a crucial turnover on the Dublin 45 metre line that cost two quick points and the Lee Keegan black card.
Head injuries to Vaughan (concussive symptoms) and Parsons (five stitches) also cost them, he suggested, with the black cards also interrupting their planned bench 'run'.
"They rattled us a little bit more than what we thought at that moment. Our view would have been that the likes of the Vaughans, Parsons, Keegans, that sort of mobility in the middle third going into the home stretch, that experience, that ability was lost for guys to be able to punch holes.
"Once Dublin got ahead following the penalty, they played with 12 or 13 here. I don't say that as a criticism, I say it is smart game management and they were able to counter-attack. If you look at the way Cormac Costello came on to those three points."
Rochford knows the willingness to keep coming back will be questioned from outside.
"We don't feel unlucky - you make your own luck. That might be a bit of a punchline for today but you know... Dublin have got to four or five finals now in the last few years, they've won every one of them. They're able to make their own luck.
"Kerry are able to make their own luck in finals. We have got to find that. What we have is a huge amount of desire to find that. There's a lot of good things that come out of this year.
"(There are) some questions being asked about the ability to keep coming back," he mused. "There will be people who will say 'that's the end of this Mayo team'. But sure that's been said for the last three years as well. I don't feel that's the case either. We'll dust ourselves down and start looking towards Cavan in the league over some time in October. Look, it's a long way away, but what else would you be doing?"
His sentiments are shared by defender Paddy Durcan.
"You couldn't say we didn't come back from any of the other finals. It's small margins again. You need to get those things to go for you. Over the 140 minutes, there was very little to say that we wouldn't be able to compete with anyone else. I think we know we're well able to compete at this level, we're not that far away."