Monday 23 October 2017

'There's huge spirit within the group' - Mayo boss Stephen Rochford looks at the positives

Mayo players, left to right, Cillian O'Connor, Danny Kirby, and Diarmuid O'Connor react to conceding a free late in the game
Mayo players, left to right, Cillian O'Connor, Danny Kirby, and Diarmuid O'Connor react to conceding a free late in the game

Declan Rooney

It was a long road through the qualifiers for Mayo on their way to last year's All-Ireland final, but they will hope for a similar smooth ride in the coming weeks and months after their Connacht Championship hopes were derailed at Pearse Stadium.

Mayo have three weeks to prepare themselves for that route, but after the effort expended to come so close last season, it is hard to see how they can muster another similar recovery and win the six consecutive games needed to finally claim that coveted All-Ireland.

The draw was definitely kind to them 12 months ago, with two home games before they faced a weakened Westmeath at Croke Park, but team manager Stephen Rochford hopes that the experience of that run will stand to his side.

"The qualifiers take a life of their own and you just have to take one game at a time and see where that takes you," said Rochford.

"Time will tell (if it stands to us). The experience in the team that's been accumulated over the years will hopefully be a sign that they're well able to deal with this.

"I don't want to over-emphasise it, but we played 50 minutes with 14 men against the Connacht champions and we had umpteen chances to not just draw it, but to win it. They're the small margins.

Mayo boss Stephen Rochford watches part of yesterday’s game from the stands in Pearse Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo boss Stephen Rochford watches part of yesterday’s game from the stands in Pearse Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile

"We hit the post with an effort. Sean Armstrong nailed everything into the breeze and with the breeze and fair dues to them. If you get the opportunity to win the game, you've got to take it, but we didn't.

"The feeling in the dressing room is one of supreme disappointment. I don't think anyone would be surprised with that.

"The lads have put in a lot of effort. To remain in that game and create the opportunities to draw it and possibly even win it shows that there's huge spirit within the group, but it just wasn't enough on the day."

The choice not to start Colm Boyle, who was fit and ready to play, was a "tactical" decision according to the Mayo manager, but they certainly could have used his hunger for the fight, considering the success the likes of Damien Comer and Sean Armstrong had in around the 'D'.

The arrival of Aidan O'Shea at midfield was also a curious one, considering Mayo were chasing the game with the wind at their backs when he was called upon 22 minutes from time. Danny Kirby was introduced at the edge of the square at the same time as the Breaffy man - maybe O'Shea's ability to cause havoc could have edged it Mayo's way?

Regardless of those decisions, Rochford admitted the sending-off was a huge incident.

"To be honest, I didn't see it. I'm told that it was an off-the-ball incident. If that proves to be right then we have no qualms," said Rochford. "We had to deal with what the situation was in front of us, not to deal with what had happened, so I haven't spoken to him about it.

"Obviously losing Keith (Higgins) at a critical time in the game, 10 or 15 minutes before half-time, it asked a lot of the lads, but I think they showed a lot of resolve. We'll look back on that game and opportunities to not just draw the game, but to maybe have won it.

"Playing with 14 men doesn't help, especially when you're playing against the Connacht champions and now a Division 1 team, so we ended up playing over 50 minutes in tough, tough conditions."

Despite that setback Mayo had the chances to win the game and their eight wides and unclaimed goal chances came back to haunt them at the death. It wasn't a total collapse, though, and their manager will take heart from their passionate fightback.

"We hit the post, we hit the crossbar, we had a ball cleared off the line and we had two shots in those closing minutes," Rochford said.

"We didn't have a malfunction. We didn't have a situation where there was no life in us, maybe compared with where we were this time last year.

"We created those opportunities and at the end to have the ball cleared off the line and two shots inside the '45' with the breeze could have equalised or maybe even won it for us

"I'm tremendously proud of the effort that the lads put in there, but ultimately we've just come up short. We've got to take that on the chin, dust ourselves and get ready for a route in the back door."


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Irish Independent

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