Wednesday 19 September 2018

Comment: Something doesn't add up in walkout by Mayo ladies

 

Walkout: Star player Cora Staunton. Photo: Sportsfile
Walkout: Star player Cora Staunton. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

There are numerous aspects of the Mayo ladies football walkout that just don't add up and while it may look like it from the outside, this doesn't appear to be a strike in the traditional sense.

The decision taken by ten players including captain Sarah Tierney, vice-captain Fiona McHale - and her father/selector Michael McHale - as well as the game's biggest star Cora Staunton to leave the fold should not be taken lightly, and it was likely done with a heavy heart.

Staying put: Mayo manager Peter Leahy. Photo: Sportsfile
Staying put: Mayo manager Peter Leahy. Photo: Sportsfile

There's a sense of admiration for players for taking a stand if they feel the cause is justified but the general public are totally in the dark about the reasons for such drastic action.

The only information provided by the ten absentees is that "player welfare issues that are personal and sensitive to the players were involved" which is open to all kinds of interpretation and only worsens these situations as people are afforded latitude to jump to their own conclusions.

Some questions arise: What are the thoughts of the remainder of the panel? Were there players' meetings behind closed doors to discuss these 'issues' as a group? How come the younger cohort are not backing the stand made by senior members of their squad? Has there been a rift between the two parties and can it be fixed before Saturday's crucial All-Ireland qualifier against Cavan?

Process

Frank Browne was the boss when Mayo reached last year's All-Ireland final - ending Cork's seven-in-a-row bid in the process - before Peter Leahy, who came on board a selector during last year's championship, was drafted in as his replacement.

Walkout: Mayo captain Sarah Tierney. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Walkout: Mayo captain Sarah Tierney. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

While Mayo's ladies have been at loggerheads with their county board at various times down through the years, that doesn't seem to be the case now with Leahy stating that he "will give the facts" as soon as Saturday's game - defeat would leave them needing to beat All-Ireland champions Dublin in their final group game to maintain their interest - is taken care of.

The walkout of selector McHale would suggest differences between the management team but with little information, that is not clear. The fact that the rest of the squad look to take to the pitch this weekend is a big puzzler also. In contrast, Cork's hurlers took strike action in both 2002 and 2009 after a number of issues with the Rebel county board had been building for months whereas this issue in Mayo seems to have sprung up almost overnight.

Cork - as Limerick's hurlers did when they went on strike under Justin McCarthy in 2010 - displayed a unified front with an 'all for one, one for all' approach and that's what makes the Mayo case all the more puzzling. Did the remainder of the squad agree with the issues raised by the ten walkouts? When Cork took action, they also gathered together and outlined their grievances to the assembled media through a lengthy statement.

The opposite was the case yesterday with Mayo Ladies County Board, the ten walkouts, Peter Leahy, the LGFA and the WGPA all lacking clarity on the matter. It is unknown whether the matter can be solved but with a do-or-die championship tie at the weekend without a host of their most high-profile stars, the end of the line could be coming for Mayo as they experience an unprecedented crisis.

Walkout: Mayo vice-captain Fiona McHale. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Walkout: Mayo vice-captain Fiona McHale. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

The Mayo footballers have provided enough drama over the past two decades in their pursuit of Sam Maguire but it seems the Mayo ladies are falling into the breach and this story is unlikely to have a happy ending for anyone involved. In fact, it may end with Staunton - an 11-time All-Star and four-time All-Ireland winner -finishing her inter-county career on the sourest of notes before she heads Down Under for another season of Aussie Rules with the Great Western Sydney Giants.

It is understood that the players' meeting with the county board last weekend was asked to be kept confidential so that suggests that the matter is of a sensitive nature. One thing is for sure - you definitely haven't heard the last of this mess.

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