The Mayo boss touched immortality more than once, and had he pulled it off it would have been one of the greatest stories ever told, writes Colin Sheridan.
The opening scene of Woody Allen’s 1971 spoof Bananas! sees legendary sportscasters Don Murphy and Howard Cosell hunkered outside the presidential palace of a fictitious South American banana republic, setting the scene as if pitch-side at the gridiron: “Good afternoon, Wide World of Sports reporting live from the little Republic of San Marcos, where we are going to bring you a live, on-the-spot assassination.
“They’re going to kill the president of this lovely, Latin American country, and replace him with a military dictatorship, and everybody is about as excited and tense as can be...”
For 36 hours this past Sunday through Monday, the Mayo Gaelic football community (which is the entirety of the county) resembled San Marcos. Counter-rumour followed rumour: He’s staying. He has announced his cabinet. His cabinet has been approved.
The cabinet has been dissolved. The king is dead. No, wait, the king is alive! No, he is dead. Long live the King!
There was only one thing that could keep the visiting Pope off the front pages: The perpetual Greek Tragedy that is Mayo football.
Truthfully, Aeschylus himself would struggle to pen a poem worthy of the drama that once again engulfs the western county.
Many speculative accounts will be written, opinions offered, but the only thing we know for sure is that, in the words of the Manic Street Preachers, everything we know is wrong.
When Mayo fell to Kildare, like a punch-drunk Ali, it was widely agreed that the best thing for everybody, players, management, administrators and supporters, was to draw breath.
Players, many of them for the first time since childhood, got to go to the Galway Races, finally realising the fuss that was responsible for keeping the Galway footballers from reaching August this past decade.
Had Rochford departed at this juncture, few would have been surprised, given the pressures of the job and the natural cycle of such things. His legacy was secured.
His decision to stay and subsequently go has come with a bizarre House of Cards twist.
Rochford has departed in the manner of the recently deceased John McCain.
The former, juxtaposed in the popular opinion of Mayo supporters at least, against the perceived tyranny of the Mayo County Board, just as the latter’s heroism has been against Trump.
McCain, in death, has been absolved of all sin. Similarly, Rochford in his stepping aside.
McCain’s most spectacular faux pas, his selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate for presidential office, equates to Rochford’s goalkeeping switcheroo in the 2016 All-Ireland.
I am not at all comparing Robbie Henelly to Palin. I know he knows where Russia is, but the characters in this tragic poem are superfluous: Rochford, the county board, the players, they pale into insignificance against the binary focus of the fan: For them, it is good versus evil.
County boards never, ever win these battles. Not for the hearts and minds of those paying customers, many of whom have threatened on social media in recent hours to boycott club games in protest of the treatment of Rochford. Many of these are the same fans who unashamedly, and often quite aggressively called for Rochford’s head following the said goalkeeping debacle.
But this, as we know only too well, is the indisputable prerogative of the paying fan.
County boards exist for such things, to serve as lightning rods for the angst of the Vox Populi and their every whim. Often times the anger of the mob is justified, but sometimes things are much less binary. That doesn’t make good copy, however.
What should not be disputed is that Rochford has earned his rest.
His three years were a blast for all of those that followed him, filled with few lows and many, many highs. He touched immortality more than once, and had he pulled it off it would have been one of the greatest stories ever told in the context of his own journey, and most especially the history of Mayo’s struggle.
Perhaps his greatest achievement as a manager was his ability to, well, manage.
Lest we forget, he took over at a turbulent time — a novice inter-county manager stepping straight in following a player-led coup!
No matter, he managed the players, the press, the board, the fans, and himself in pretty exemplary fashion. Not an easy thing in the little Republic of San Marcos. What next for him? Dancing with the Stars? Contest Michael D for the big house in the Park? Unlikely.
It doesn’t seem his style. He has pretty much done the impossible. Three years of that pressure surely is enough for any man. To emerge with your dignity intact, as he has, is remarkable.
As for the Vox Populi, their baying will be sated over the coming weeks with enough populist propaganda in the media to fertilise the flames of conspiracy.
We Mayo folk can once again clap ourselves on the back for saving another floundering championship season.
For all protestations to the contrary, we wouldn’t have it any other way.