Wednesday 19 December 2018

'Undermined and intimidated'- Departed Mayo players break silence with strong statement

  • Players claim walkout was not due to selection issues nor to one or two players
  • They say there was a lack of communication, they were undermined and intimidated
  • One member of the panel was branded 'lazy', it is claimed
  • They are open to Mayo return in the 'right environment'
The departed Mayo players spoke to the media last night Pic: @SineadKissane
The departed Mayo players spoke to the media last night Pic: @SineadKissane
Cora Staunton was one of 12 players to leave the panel
Mayo ladies celebrate beating Cavan without the 12 exiled players
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

The Mayo players who walked out of the ladies panel earlier in the summer have spoken for the first time about their reasons for doing so.

In a strong statement released this morning, the 12 players and two of the management team who left the panel said the "whole experience had a significant impact on their mental health".

The statement claimed:

  • The players all left because of player welfare issues
  • Whole experience had a significant impact on their mental health
  • It was not due to selection issues nor to one or two players
  • Reasons for leaving were related to player welfare issues that were personal, and were sensitive
  • A number of players but most notably our captain Sarah Tierney has endured an extremely difficult relationship with the Mayo manager over the 2018 season
  • Lack of communication, being undermined, intimidated, feeling isolated and eventually helpless in the entire situation
  • Mediation, which was another opportunity for engagement and agreement (even to disagree) was hindered by what we believe was an unfair process.

 

12 of Peter Leahy's squad - including eight from Carnacon - left the panel in July, citing "player welfare issues".

The remaining players publicly backed the management team and Leahy recently addressed the issue on the GAA Hour podcast.

"The word unsafe is the reason why I am [speaking out]," Leahy said.

"The minute safety was brought into it I had to protect my management team. Safety and unhealthy was mentioned last week, enough is enough."

Leahy outlined the structures in place to protect players, adding: "These are close to slanderous accusations being put out there and it's not fair on my management team."

Following Mayo's Connacht final against Galway in the summer, video footage circulated on social media of Cora Staunton taking a free kick with words being exchanged with Sarah Rowe afterwards.

Leahy explained to Colm Parkinson on the GAA Hour that Rowe had been put on free-taking duties.

"What happened on the field was Grace Kelly was supposed to take them off the right, and Sarah was to take them off the left," said Leahy.

"Cora took them...Cora and me talked about it afterwards and Cora said that it wasn't made clear to her (as to who was to be taking the frees.)

"We'll agree to disagree on that one...As far as everybody on the panel was concerned, that was fairly open and shut...Maybe it was my fault for not making it 100% clear," he admitted.

At this stage, both sides have had their say on events but conclusive details of what caused the divide have yet to emerge as mediation failed.

The departed players spoke to sections of the media, including RTE and TV3.

"We have remained silent until now and appreciate that this left a space for speculation and rumour; we take responsibility for that," read this morning's statement, signed by 12 players and two of the Mayo management team

"We had always hoped that our story would come out in a respectful, private setting but at this stage feel that we have no choice but to represent ourselves to ease our own conscience and to hopefully close the public discourse on this matter.

"Firstly, we want to be clear that regardless of timing or language or delivery of the message to leave the Mayo set up, all fourteen of us can categorically state that we left for the same reasons.

"These reasons were in relation to player welfare issues that we witnessed or experienced in our time with the set up. We would like to be clear to everyone that these were not due to selection issues nor to one or two players."

The players' statement reiterated the reasons for leaving the panel were for "player welfare issues" that were "personal and sensitive".

"Specifically, a number of players but most notably our captain Sarah Tierney has endured an extremely difficult relationship with the Mayo manager over the 2018 season," continued the statement.

"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."

Fiona McHale claimed that one of the exiled players was branded "lazy" by management.

"The opportunity for some people to learn and improve was not given by the manager," said Leahy, in quotes reported by RTE.

"The manager referred to this...that he has a commitment to equality but we never saw evidence of this commitment.

"We would consider [that] equality is having respect for everybody, everyone at the same level.

"Some people directly asked for feedback off the manager and they were not given it.

"One girl did not make the starting 15 for the Connacht final and during an individual meeting she had after the final, she was given feedback as to why she wasn't starting and the feedback given was that she was lazy.

"There are four of us here [at the press conference] that have started in the Connacht final.

"Why would we leave for those reasons? Why would we leave for selection issues?

"It's absolutely crazy for people to even think that or for it to be even suggested by people.

"I want to clarify that that was not the reason we left."

 

Statement in Full

To begin we want to acknowledge what a great day Sunday was for ladies football; the crowd, standard of football and we offer congratulations to all six teams involved. 

We as a group of fourteen people, the twelve players and two members of management who stepped away from the Mayo senior ladies set up in July 2018 would like to address the issues around our actions.

We have remained silent until now and appreciate that this left a space for speculation and rumour; we take responsibility for that. We had always hoped that our story would come out in a respectful, private setting but at this stage feel that we have no choice but to represent ourselves to ease our own conscience and to hopefully close the public discourse on this matter.

Firstly, we want to be clear that regardless of timing or language or delivery of the message to leave the Mayo set up, all fourteen of us can categorically state that we left for the same reasons.

These reasons were in relation to player welfare issues that we witnessed or experienced in our time with the set up. We would like to be clear to everyone that these were not due to selection issues nor to one or two players.

Everyone involved in county panels, including us twelve players, are hugely competitive and of course want to be playing on the starting fifteen. However, to suggest that any player would encourage or expect a team mate to leave a panel because they were not on a starting fifteen, or indeed, that a player would leave because of such a request, is hugely disrespectful to us all as athletes and people.  

Secondly, our reasons for stepping away from the Mayo panel were related to player welfare issues that were personal, and were sensitive.

Specifically, a number of players but most notably our captain Sarah Tierney has endured an extremely difficult relationship with the Mayo manager over the 2018 season.

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.

We will be judged for our decision but this was extremely important to us and something we had to take a stand on.

There is now widespread acceptance that player welfare is much more than having a physio, proper strength and conditioning, good pitches. We fought long enough for these basic conditions, and thankfully over the last few years, we have not had an issue with them – and equally in 2018 we had a good set up.

Our issues were broader and deeper and dismissing them as ‘feelings’ is extremely unhelpful and careless.  We made a decision for ourselves, as amateur players, who absolutely love our sport, to step away from it. This decision was not taken lightly and our intention was never to cause upset for anyone rather to protect the well-being of each other.

Secondly, an opportunity for all of the departed players and current players to sit down and discuss the situation on Sunday July 8th was ultimately pulled by the county board and others.  In addition, mediation, which was another opportunity for engagement and agreement (even to disagree) was hindered by what we believe was an unfair process.

At this point, we are completely disillusioned and our attempts to remain dignified after such a significant decision have been undermined. When we raised our issues they were dismissed, when mediation failed we were let go.

What does the reaction say to people who want to ever speak up, who ever want to raise an issue that this is how we handle it? We must be able to tell all players that their opinions, their feelings and their experiences matter.

We must be able to listen when they have a problem with structures in place.

We do appreciate that all parties have been affected, especially our fellow team-mates.  They have expressed this and now we have too.

One of the saddest outcomes of the whole thing is that there has been a serious strain put on friendships.  We were within our rights to walk away from something that we felt was wrong and whatever people may ultimately think, we were pushed to a stage where the right option, the healthy option, was to remove ourselves.

Finally, we have been and will continue to be proud Mayo people. We have been privileged and honoured to represent Mayo and always will only want the best and have the highest expectations for anyone who takes to the field in a Mayo jersey.

We hope this answers the questions which have been in the public sphere 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.

SIGNED

Sarah Tierney

Fiona McHale

Denise McDonagh

Shauna Howley

Marie Corbett

Cora Staunton

Elaine Murphy

Doireann Hughes

Martha Carter

Amy Dowling

Saoirse Walsh

Sadbh Larkin

Orla Conlon

Michael McHale

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