Former Mayo selector Tony McEntee insists tomorrow’s Super 8 decider is not personal for Stephen Rochford - but claims Donegal are in difficulty going to Castlebar.
Armagh native McEntee worked with Rochford for all three of his seasons in charge of Mayo before the Mayo manager stepped away, citing lack of support from the county board, and later last year linked up with Donegal as coach/selector.
The silence of the players at the time didn’t help Rochford’s cause but he won’t be seeking retribution against them or county board officials by helping to mastermind the dumping of Mayo out of the Championship, maintains McEntee.
“He carries a great warmth for these players and he wouldn’t be in any way bitter to what happened in previous times. I know he wants James (Horan) to do well with this bunch of players so this weekend doesn’t represent him getting back at Mayo or anything at all.”
McEntee readily accepts Rochford’s presence in the Donegal camp gives them an advantage against Mayo but he believes Horan will reflect that in how he sets out his team.
“I don’t think James will go down the same route as he did against Kerry. Donie Buckley knew what this Mayo team was all about and for all intents and purposes James played into Donie’s hands, keeping David Clarke in goal and what not. By going short that much, Kerry could press up aggressively.
“I think James will change the keeper to at least take away that expectation. I can see him putting Robbie (Hennelly) in. I think he’s going to shake it up that way and the majority of the kicks then will be long and competitive and with Donegal pressing kick-outs they will have to change their approach. I could also see James bringing Keith Higgins out to number six this week and let Colm Boyle run free just to freshen up.
“He needs Patrick Durcan back too but there are a lot of options for him. I think you’re seeing the best out of Cillian O’Connor at the moment too and he provides a lot of leadership up top.”
For all the young players Horan has used this year, McEntee tips his hat to Rochford for developing them “With the exception of Darren Coen who is not young, every one of those young players Stephen developed. I’m being slightly protectionist but they were all on two-year strength and conditioning programmes under Stephen. Fionn McDonagh, Ciarán Treacy, Matthew Ruane and that - Matthew Ruane had an operation on his ankle so he wasn’t seen on the field.
“They’ve been nurtured these last two years so they’re not just finds - a lot of time and effort has been put into them. James is certainly giving them the chances and that’s something that didn’t happen in years gone by.”
The 2002 All-Ireland SFC winner believes Donegal are the team who are feeling the heat, despite the fact they needing a draw to make the All-Ireland semi-finals. Because of injury concerns and loss of form, he senses Declan Bonner goes into this clash with more questions to answer.
“I don’t think there’s much between the teams but I think Donegal are under serious pressure. I know Castlebar hasn’t been a great place for Mayo but there are more reasons for Donegal to be worried this weekend. This Donegal team will have recollections of failing to beat a middling Mayo team in Ballybofey, which was supposed to be a fortress, last year and other results when they have found it hard to beat this Mayo team. Mayo were only beginning to get players back and yet we had enough to get the result and relegate Donegal.
“Jamie Brennan might have looked like an All-Star coming up to the Kerry game but was marked out of it by Tom O’Sullivan and he will have to rebuild his confidence. With Jamie Brennan having those issues, doubts about Paddy McBrearty’s fitness and Oisín (Gallen) coming in, it’s a question of what Donegal have coming from the bench. Donegal’s team is getting a bit stretched with the concerns that they have and I would actually worry for them.”