Wednesday 22 May 2019

Comment: Mayo row has gone too far - it's time to sit down and talk

The Mayo ladies team come together for the pre-match photograph before the 2017 All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile
The Mayo ladies team come together for the pre-match photograph before the 2017 All-Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Across the extensive tit-for-tat in Mayo ladies football over the last few weeks and months, there was at least some common ground in the two most recent instalments in the row in that both sides want to see an end to the impasse.

The final thought in the 1,000 word statement issued by the 12 Mayo ladies footballers and two members of the backroom team that quit the set-up earlier this year achieved quite the opposite of their stated aim.

"We hope this answers the questions which have been in the public sphere," began the concluding note.

"And we as a group hope that this will bring an end to a very tough time in all our lives. We do not wish to comment any further."

They must have known that there was no chance that their statement would be the final instalment in the episode and, in any case, there was hardly time to analyse their statement when the county board of Mayo LGFA weighed in.

Their statement struck a similar parting note.

"We sincerely hope that this situation finishes today and are glad that the players indicated there will be no further comment.

Endeavours "We wish them well in their future endeavours and hope our senior team can look forward to playing next year without restriction."

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Publicly at least, both sides want to bring things to a head but their versions of what that might look like appear to be very different. Despite the public utterances, the truth is that a resolution has never been further away.

Despite lengthy statements, claims and counter claims, there remains at least as many questions as answers: How did it come to this? Are all the facts of the case now in the public domain? Where does the truth lie? And where can both sides go from here?

Within all the public discourse, there was a clear and obvious entrenching of positions.

The Mayo LGFA statement inferred that Peter Leahy would continue as manager into the new season. Even if that's their stance, it was unhelpful to put that in the public domain now.

Given how bitter the row has become, it's unfathomable that any of the 12 players who walked away would be willing to return while he remains at the helm.

And likewise, the rebelling players stood over their claim that the panel was a bad environment for them to be in, using some strong words in the process.

"Ultimately, our issues related to a lack of communication, feeling isolated and eventually helpless in the entire situation," they said.

"The whole experience had a significant impact on our mental health.

"We used the terms 'unhealthy' and 'unsafe' and accept, and take responsibility for the implications of this language, but for us, these are relevant terms and stepping away was the right decision."

So it leaves an already ugly situation in a state of flux. Several aspects of the case are contested to one extent or another and trying to find the rights and the wrongs is tricky.

Listening to Leahy explain his side of the story it's difficult to imagine that he has overseen a panel where intimidation and isolation are par for the course. And the fact that a large portion of players supported his view backs up that stance.

And equally, the audio from the 12 departed players made for hard listening. They were audibly upset at what they felt was unacceptable treatment.

Some of the players involved are veterans and, as such, you'd imagine it's unlikely that they'd go to war over something as frivolous as hurt feelings or damaged egos.

Some of the examples cited on both sides offered some justification for their stance. In others, it felt like a deep-seated distrust existed between both sides, where even the most mundane, throwaway remark was taken as something more sinister. In some cases, it seems certain language and decisions left players upset.

As far as selection goes, it's a job for those in charge. Managers manage and players play.

And on any panel, there will always be someone who feels hard done by or unfairly treated. Such is the nature of team sport. And in the context of a football team, being told you're 'lazy' or 'not committed' is hardly reason to walk away.

Even if you go for the 'tough love' style of management, that seems excessive. The added complication to an already muddled situation is the Carnacon club who are now fighting to defend their Mayo, Connacht and All-Ireland champions in the boardroom.

Given the one-sided nature of the vote to expel them from a competition they have dominated in the county (they are gunning for a 20th title in 21 seasons this year), they aren't the most popular club in Mayo.

Dangerous But punishing a club for actions relating to the county side is dangerous territory, as demonstrated when the Connacht Council reinstated them.

This should have been a great week for ladies football. A record final attendance in Croke Park and rocketing standards means the game is in a great place at the moment.

And the esteem in which it is being held was demonstrated when Mick Bohan, who steered the Dublin ladies to back-to-back All-Ireland titles last weekend, was linked to the Roscommon men's job.

However, this week has been taken over by a story of self-harm within the organisation. The LGFA had to get involved at a central level when there was strife down in Kerry.

That may be the route to go down again. They have tried mediation but even the extent of that process is contested by both sides. Much of what went on in that session can't be disclosed due to a binding agreement but the exiled players are willing to waive that now.

That feels like things will only get worse before they get better. It's time for LGFA to grasp the nettle and resolve this for the good of the game as a whole.

Irish Independent

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