By Mike Finnerty
Mayo’s coach for the last six seasons, Donie Buckley, and long-serving goalkeeping coach, Peter Burke, are both leaving the county management team.
The news leaves manager Stephen Rochford with two gaping holes to fill in his backroom while uncertainty
surrounds the plans of selector Tony McEntee, who has had three years on the sidelines.
There seems little doubt, though, that Buckley will be the hardest man to replace in Mayo’s tightly-knit backroom unit. The former Limerick and Kerry coach has been an ever-present in the Mayo dressing room since he was recruited by then-manager, James Horan, in 2013. In the intervening years, Buckley’s role has taken in everything, from one-on-one coaching to preparing and leading video analysis sessions to planning and tailoring training sessions for specific opponents. His work on Mayo’s defensive game and their ability to tackle and delay opponents, individually and collectively, has also been highlighted in numerous interviews by Mayo players in recent seasons.
“I think Donie has definitely had a huge input into the team in the last few years and has definitely
improved me as a player, ” said Chris Barrett, an All-Star corner-back last year. “In terms of his training, it’s
always new, always fresh, and he does put a huge emphasis on the tackling side of things.”
The 2017 footballer of the year, Lee Keegan, was also a big fan of the Castleisland native’s training methods.
“James Horan would have started the whole learning process for me, but when Donie came, he really started developing me, ” said Keegan.
Buckley was retained as Mayo’s coach in 2015, when Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes took over as joint managers. He was also Rochford’s choice to coach Mayo for the past three seasons.
The pair worked well together and Buckley’s fingerprints could be seen all over Mayo’s runs to the All-Ireland finals of 2016 and 2017.
In total, the former All-Ireland club medal winner with Castleisland Desmonds won three Connacht championships as Mayo coach, and was involved in runs to three All-Ireland finals, two of which went to replays.
Identifying and recruiting a top-class coach to take over from Buckley is likely to be Rochford’s main priority this week.
However, he will also be trying to source a trusted and knowledgeable replacement for the under-rated Burke as quickly as possible.
The former Mayo goalkeeper, who played in the 1997 All-Ireland final defeat to Kerry, has been the county’s senior goalkeeping coach for eight years.
He was also brought into the fold by Horan and has been an anchored in the role since. The Kiltimagh clubman was also appointed as a team selector by Rochford at the start of the 2017 season and was extremely popular with the players.
The possible departure of McEntee, an All-Ireland winner with Armagh in 2002, would also deprive the dressing room of a man with a successful pedigree at both club and county level. The Crossmaglen native was also regularly in charge of the whistle when the Dublin-based members of Mayo’s squad trained in the capital in recent seasons.
Rochford is set to meet with county GAA chiefs after Sunday’s All-Ireland U20 final between Mayo and
Kildare to discuss the season gone and the plans for the future.