By Jim O'Sullivan and Liam Horan
ALL-IRELAND winning manager John O'Mahony last night left his post with Galway, a year ahead of schedule, citing a strong desire for a break as the principal reason.
O'Mahony, one of the most successful managers of modern times - and also one of the most popular - was in charge in Galway for seven years and led them to three All-Ireland finals, winning two and losing the third in a replay to Kerry.
O'Mahony made the formal announcement at a press conference in Salthill last night, after having first informed the Football Board of his decision.
"I could have stayed on for the extra year. I appreciate all the support I have got from everyone in Galway. They are a fantastic bunch of players. The style in which they won games for me said it all. And, they were tremendous ambassadors, not just on the field, but off the field as well."
An All-Ireland minor and U21 medal winner with his native Mayo, he graduated to senior management via the U21 team (which he coached to All-Ireland success in 1983). Mayo contested the All-Ireland final in 1989 against Cork and lost narrowly. Staying with them until after the 1991 championship, he took over in Leitrim late the following season and stayed for four years. The highlight of that spell was the Connacht final win in 1994, the first for the county since 1927.
In the autumn of 1997 he took on the Galway job remaining there since then with selectors, Pete Warren and (former star) Stephen Joyce.
In 1998, they regained the Sam Maguire Cup after a lapse of 32 years, when Ray Silke became the first Galway captain to lift the Sam Maguire since Enda Colleran, who died earlier this year. After losing to Kerry in a replay in the 2000 final, they won back the title the following year. Then, an U21 title followed in 2002.
O'Mahony considered walking away after the loss to Kerry, saying: "I was very disappointed. Like everyone else I had put three hard years into it. I had the feeling that maybe my time was up. I didn't want in any sense to over-stay my welcome."
However, the support he received from the players and everyone else involved encouraged him to stay.
Again, there was speculation he would go after the 2002 semi-final defeat - again to Kerry. However, such talk proved to be false.
In Croke Park just over two weeks ago, O'Mahony was clearly emotional when he spoke to the media after the team's defeat to All-Ireland champions Tyrone. He pointed out last night that it had been "an emotional" dressing room. "That was the reason. The players knew, leaving that dressing room, what the story was. I didn't announce that I was going. I didn't want to - it wouldn't have been fair to the U21's [who were playing the following week].
"I wouldn't be seeing the players as a group again. Everyone knew what I was saying at that stage!"
"When I took over, I was looking for people who were both passionate and had an intense knowledge of Galway football. Pete Warren and Stephen Joyce met these criteria, along with Gay McManus. All the backroom team, and the Football Board itself - Pat Egan and his fellow officers - were tremendous. They gave me huge support over the years.
"It was a very intensive seven years, but a very a successful seven years at the same time. This year and '99 were the only two years we didn't have the full season to be completed. So we had no break effectively."
He has managed three counties and, while he wouldn't be associated with the longevity of people like Sean Boylan, in effect he has been involved almost on a continuous basis since 1983.
And the future for Galway football?
"They will continue to be successful in the future, there's no doubt about that. I have no doubt about that! I'm leaving with very happy memories and I wish them all the best of luck."
Emphasising his need to take a break and "re-charge the batteries," he added that he wouldn't be getting involved with another team immediately.
Peter Ford, the man hotly tipped to succeed O'Mahony as Galway football manager, insists he has heard nothing about the job.
"The first I heard about it was I got a text message from a friend of mine saying it was in a newspaper that I was about to get the job," he said. "I have heard nothing whatsoever about it."
He declined to comment on whether or not he would be interested in the position. His name is linked with countless vacancies every year. He is a teacher in Headford, Co Galway, which has fuelled speculation that he could be taking charge of the maroon and white.
Ford, who guided Sligo to famous wins over Tyrone and Kildare in recent seasons, and also pushed Armagh to a replay in their All-Ireland year (2002), is now heavily involved with his own club, Ballinrobe.
The former Mayo full-back is joint manager of the Ballinrobe team with another former Mayo player and selector Tommy O'Malley - and they have shot to unexpected heights at the top of Division One of the Mayo League.
The former national champion boxer is also concentrating on playing football - with the Mayo over-40s, who are into the All-Ireland quarter-final.
"A lot of players I played on Mayo teams are now playing for the over-40s - TJ Kilgallon, Eugene Lavin, Michael Collins, Frank Noone, Anthony Finnerty, Dermot Flanagan. It's good to be playing."