Stephen Rochford won’t play the blame game in wake of shattering loss

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford has insisted that there’ll be no ‘victimisation’ of Donal Vaughan in the wake of the county’s All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin.
Stephen Rochford won’t play the blame game in wake of shattering loss

Experienced Vaughan was sent off in the 48th minute of Mayo’s one-point loss after striking Dublin defender John Small with his upper arm.

Small had just slammed into Colm Boyle, an offence that earned him a second yellow card, and if Vaughan hadn’t got involved then Mayo would have had an extra man for the last 30 minutes.

But with both teams reduced to 14, Dublin held on for a one-point win, their third final win over Mayo by that agonising margin since 2013.

Rochford spoke with media at Mayo’s CityWest Hotel base yesterday and said that he intended sitting down with Vaughan to make it clear that he wasn’t to blame for the defeat.

“Just because of the mayhem that is out there (in the team hotel), I haven’t got to speak to him yet,” said Rochford. “I definitely will in the next couple of hours. I haven’t seen the incident but I thought from pitch-side that it possibly looked worse than it was.

“I thought it was just a case of him running in to remonstrate. Honestly, I haven’t seen it on video but with Colm on the ground he sort of had to jump over him and maybe that made it look worse.

“It’s one of these things, he’s been super for us all year and he was having a fine game. There’ll be no victimisation here of anybody. All 35 that’s in that squad worked each other to the bone to get us into that position to be able to be competitive and to go to the 78th minute as we did.

“It is what it is, that’s what happens sometimes. Things happen and you just get on with it.”

Rochford similarly insisted that Cillian O’Connor shouldn’t be singled out for criticism when his late attempt for a point from a free on the left wing came back off the post.

O’Connor had an opportunity from the same area to tie up last year’s final but dragged his kick wide, allowing Dublin to escape with a one-point win that day too.

“Yeah, look, moments within these games don’t define these guys,” said Rochford. “If it was the case, they’d have been finished four or five years ago. Mentally they are a very strong group, they are a very tight group and we know again that there’s more percentage points they can improve and I’ve no doubt the talent is there.

“I think five of the six guys we brought on were under the age of 25, three of them at 22. While Dublin were bringing on All-Ireland winners and experience, we were certainly bringing on All-Ireland winners at minor and U-21 level and that’s encouraging as well for the years ahead.”

Rochford rejected the suggestion that with both teams reduced to 14, a highly mobile Dublin side had the advantage due to the greater space on the field to exploit.

“Maybe, but I just think we’d be probably clutching at straws going down that line,” he said. “We certainly had legs and youth coming off the bench. Dublin were just very, very good, economical on the ball. Even when you think you have them wrapped up they’re able to manoeuvre a chance, create a scoring opportunity, either a free or from play. Look, the winner writes the script on these things and fair dues to Dublin.”

Mayo could lose players to retirement in the coming weeks and months. Goalkeeper David Clarke is 34 while defenders Keith Higgins, Boyle and Chris Barrett are all at least 30.

Attacking duo Andy Moran and Alan Dillon are both 33. There is a question mark over the future of Rochford as manager also and the former All-Ireland club title winning Corofin boss said he will have to give it serious thought.

“I have to do a bit of thinking about that during the month of October and see how it is,” he said. “I’ve got into a new job with work and I have two young kids so there’s a good bit to consider now at this stage. We’ll do that during October and talk to the county board.”

One statistic that will torment Rochford and Mayo supporters throughout winter is that they led Dublin seven times on Sunday and still didn’t win.

Those spells in pole position added up to nearly half an hour and they were still in front in the 66th minute.

Rochford said that failing to ram home their authority, particularly after Lee Keegan’s 54th-minute goal, ultimately cost them.

“Yeah, I couldn’t disagree with that,” said the Crossmolina man. “I think the goal we got may have put us one up. I think we created a scoring opportunity then, kicked it wide. To have got two scores, two big scores, back to back, that would have helped us to drive it on.

“But Dublin, I’d have to acknowledge the pure quality they have in relation to being able to bounce back. Even when we went two ahead later on they scored points in quick succession to put the game back in the balance again.

“We’ll certainly have regrets regarding things like that because, looking back, it is such tight margins that decide these games.”

In practical terms, there is literally nothing between Mayo and Dublin even if Dublin have consistently made off with the Sam Maguire Cup at Mayo’s expense.

Rochford winced and shook his head when asked if that’s any consolation.

“No, no, we don’t take any solace in coming a good second. We were totally invested in winning that game. It just wasn’t to be again. Tight calls, tight margins, a ball off a post. I’ve no doubt when we sit down at the end of this week, or early next week, and look back, we’ll pick out a number of things that we could have done better. In that alone, I can say that we didn’t play to our best and in that way I think there’s still scope for improvement in the lads.”

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