Of all the storylines going into Sunday’s All-Ireland SFC quarter-final between Mayo and Roscommon, one of the more interesting is also one of the least known: Kevin McStay once managed Stephen Rochford.
It was back in 1999 when McStay was in charge of the Mayo U21 footballers and Rochford was his right corner-back on a team that lost a Connacht championship semi-final replay to Sligo. It was a short and unremarkable campaign for a team that had been tipped for greater things, but it was also an experience that helped to shape the careers of two men who will meet as equals on the sideline in Croke Park on Sunday.
Former Mayo footballer Ger Brady missed out on that U21 campaign due to his involvement with the Ireland rugby team in the Under-19 World Cup that spring.
But the 2005 All-Ireland club medal winner from Ballina did share dressing-rooms early on in his inter-county career with both the current Mayo and Roscommon managers.
Back in the summer of 1996, when Rochford captained the Mayo minors to a Connacht championship title, Brady was a raw 16-year-old who played behind his Crossmolina neighbour in the Westerners’ defence.
“As a player, Stephen was a very stylish corner-back. He was very comfortable on the ball, really skilful, and very clever.
“’Rochie’ was always a good talker and communicator, so the fact that he went into management so quickly didn’t surprise me.
“He was a thinker, about the game and about the players around him. I was a bit younger and quieter than everybody else in that minor set-up, but ‘Rochie’ quickly made sure that I was alright; he was a great captain.
“He was a real father-figure to me. He’d often put his arm around me and made me feel part of the set-up. That meant a lot to me at the time.
“When he needed to, he was well able to stand up in the middle of a dressing-room. too,” he added. He wouldn’t have been a man for banging on doors, but he knew what to say and when to say it. He had an old head on young shoulders.”
In 2000 and 2001, Brady was part of a Mayo U21 squad that was managed by Kevin McStay and coached by Liam McHale, McStay’s brother-in-law and right-hand man in Roscommon these days.
Brady was reared in Ballina on stories of McStay’s prowess as a Stephenites and Mayo forward in the 1980s, while he lined out alongside McHale on many big days, including an All-Ireland club final defeat to Crossmaglen Rangers in 1999.
He makes no secret of his admiration for both of his fellow clubmen.
“I’ve said this many times over the years, but Kevin McStay is the best manager I ever had in my football career,” says Brady.
“I remember we had a team meeting the night before the All-Ireland U21 final against Tyrone in 2001, and it was one of the most inspirational and impressive team talks I’ve ever heard.
“When Kevin got going in that room, he was just so passionate and inspirational. He didn’t have to roar and shout, it was just the message and the content.
“I have nothing but the height of respect for Kevin as a manager. He’s hugely positive, and his attention to detail is second to none. He’s a great guy to create a sense of togetherness within a group of players.”
A Garda stationed in Galway city, Brady tells a story by way of illustration. As luck would have it, he was on duty the day Roscommon beat Galway this month in the Connacht final, and he got to see McStay at close quarters before and after his team’s historic victory in Salthill.
“That Sunday morning, I was working and ended up giving the Roscommon team bus a Garda escort to Pearse Stadium.
“I couldn’t help but notice how relaxed, composed and focussed the Roscommon players were.
“There seemed to be a really nice atmosphere in the group.
“So, I wasn’t surprised when they delivered a big performance.”
Now, the onus is on Stephen Rochford to ensure that Mayo deliver a match-winning performance on Sunday.
Brady believes his former minor team-mate won’t allow any complacency in the camp, and he has been impressed by the way he’s gone about his business in recent weeks.
“I think he deserves a lot of credit for the way he’s got Aidan O’Shea playing so well again, and he’s stuck by Andy Moran when an awful lot of pundits and people outside were calling for him to be used as an impact sub.
“These are things that people seem to forget about sometimes, because, of course, all people want is All-Ireland success for Mayo. Nothing else is good enough,” says Brady.
Rochford and McStay know that better than most.
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