Dissatisfaction with management is behind the large exodus of players from the Mayo ladies football panel.
With three days to their All-Ireland championship group-stage opener against Cavan, ten of the Mayo squad — including captain Sarah Tierney, vice-captain Fiona McHale, and all-time leading scorer Cora Staunton — and selector Michael McHale (Fiona’s father) have departed the set-up.
Relations between certain players and manager Peter Leahy, who was appointed last November, are believed to have been at a low ebb for the last couple of weeks, with 10 of the squad pulling the plug on their involvement last week.
The departed players yesterday released a statement, citing “player welfare issues” which they describe as personal and sensitive. They also confirmed they would not be returning to the panel ahead of Saturday’s clash against Cavan in Clones (2.15pm).
The Women’s GPA, of which Fiona McHale is secretary, also issued a statement, insisting they will support the players who have withdrawn from the panel and those who remain.
“We are aware of the issues at hand and are supporting all of the players. We recognise the physical and emotional commitment required to operate at the top level of our games and respect the decision of all individual players regarding their own personal playing experience.
“The WGPA will continue to work with everyone, individually and collectively, in the best interests of Mayo Ladies Football.”
Manager Leahy says he is determined to lead Mayo into their All-Ireland qualifier opener against Cavan despite the loss of several of his squad.
“I am preparing for a championship match on Saturday and as soon as that is over I will give you the facts,” he said yesterday.
“But for now, I must concentrate on the players who are looking forward to their championship match against Cavan this Saturday.”
Mayo, beaten All-Ireland finalists in 2017, began the year in promising fashion when securing passage to the Division 1 league final against Dublin. The return of Cora Staunton to the squad ahead of the championship, following her stint playing Australian Rules, was seen as a huge boost as they sought to claim a first All-Ireland since 2003, and seeing as the 36-year old has already signed a contract to return to Australia after this season.
Staunton’s inter-county career could now end on a sour note if a resolution to the impasse is not found.
The Mayo team under Leahy, who led Westmeath to All-Ireland intermediate glory in 2011, has taken on a new look, with their Connacht final team showing six changes to the side that lost last year’s All-Ireland to Dublin.
Speaking immediately after the Connacht final defeat to Galway last month, Leahy insisted Mayo would recover from the loss and launch an extended championship run, and that Staunton was just one of a number of top players at his disposal.
“This time last year, we got beaten by 12 points and went on to play in an All-Ireland final. These girls are resilient and they will learn from it,” he said.
“The reality is [Staunton] is a top-quality player and we have got top-quality players all around her. She is one member of a very good forward line.”
Halfway through the 2010 season, Mayo ladies manager Pat Costello resigned, stating that his position was no longer tenable due to [being] constantly undermined by certain players within the panel.
This is not the first instance in 2018 where issues between female GAA players and management have surfaced. Back in March, a no-confidence vote by Galway senior camogie players forced the resignation of manager Tony O’Donovan just four months after he was appointed. In the days after Galway’s Division 1 league semi-final defeat to Kilkenny, the Galway senior camogie panel unanimously passed a motion of no confidence in management.
In Kerry, there were rumours of player unrest in the days before Kingdom ladies football manager Graham Shine stepped down in early April. Kerry had endured a disastrous league campaign, during which they were docked points for fielding players who weren’t registered.