Oisín McConville: The questions Mayo players have still to answer

Mayo find the cupboards bare this summer when it comes to sympathy. So why has the annual goodwill evaporated? Nothing erodes goodwill more than a player revolt. Just ask the Cork hurlers, some of whom are still vilified for their role in the demise of the county’s fortunes.

When players feel strong enough to go to these lengths to get rid of a management team, obviously there is something not right in their eyes. The shocking thing is that none of these reasons have been publicised and the matter was put to bed with great haste. The vacuum has been filled with the ifs, buts, and maybes of the situation. Could it be that this group were challenged in a way they had not experienced previously and that certain players were uncomfortable with this approach?

In the meantime, Mayo have settled pretty well with a new management set-up led by Stephen Rochford, who may be blameless in this episode but must still pick up the pieces from the debacle. Those scars were all too apparent at the start of the league.

So what of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, along with their families? After all, they are the only injured parties in the way the whole issue was handled. Remember we are talking about a pair of ex-Mayo players here who have given blood, sweat, and tears to their county through many tough years.

They also delivered an All- Ireland Under 21 title and a National League title to the county, neither a common occurrence in the county. Not in itself a good enough reason to keep these guys in a job, but the lack of dialogue and the manner in which these two guys have been insulted over how poor their management set-up was without any evidence is the real crime.

The GAA pay a huge amount of money each year to the Gaelic Players’ Association, nothing unique in this as player associations all over the world are in receipt of such finding.

However, to use the PFA and their management of such situations as an example, there are lessons we need to learn. The PFA is as active with ex-players as they are with the current players. In Mayo, there was no such contact, no help and no advice to Holmes or Connelly. The support structures began and ended with the players in the current squad.

Perhaps it’s a learning process: If so, the lessons need to be learned quickly. The GAA/GPA are not the only culpable parties. The Mayo County Board dealt with this in the same ham-fisted way they made the original appointment 12 months previously. Certainly, by not revealing details of the players’ issues, they have done Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly a disservice.

One thing is for sure: the notion of Mayo as everyone’s second favourite team has evaporated. A sixth Connacht title most certainly will arrive next month, but it is about the third Sunday in September now, and only that will determine if the players who couldn’t do it under James Horan, under Holmes and Connolly, can do it under Rochford.

Last year’s semi-final battles with Dublin undoubtedly tells us they have the ability to be All-Ireland champions. However in both games, they lacked the temperament, ruthlessness, and composure to close the deal.

These are the same failings that manifested themselves under James Horan, at a time when the contenders weren’t as strong as Dublin in 2015. However, following the replay defeat to the eventual champions, Mayo players elected to blame management rather than look at themselves for their failure to get over the line — despite being in strong positions to win on both occasions. When the shit hits the fan in front of 82,500 people in Croke Park, you need a resolve that has so far deserted this bunch. Will they have it in 2016? If not, where will they look this time for the excuses?

If Mayo are to win that elusive All-Ireland, they have a serious amount of improving to do and a lot of questions to answer. The first of which is, can they play an effective sweeper, which no doubt they need, to protect their leaky full-back line? Have they got someone with enough football intelligence to play this role? Keith Higgins appears the obvious candidate to me — he is a good reader of the game and can hurt you on the break with his pace. ideal.

Mayo need to play Aidan O’Shea where can he have most influence. For me, it’s midfield. At full-forward he doesn’t have enough movement and blocks off a lot of the space for the other forwards.

To win the All-Ireland, they will have to beat the Dubs and need to dominate the Dubs’ kick-outs. Under both Horan and Holmes/Connelly, they chose not to pressure Cluxton kick-outs. If they are to change and do that, they will need their best fielders in the middle. O’Shea fits that bill.

But the real question for Stephen Rochford, Tony Mac and Donie Buckley is have they found someone to share some of the scoring onus with Cillian O’Connor?

Diarmuid O’Connor is one of the best young players around and can get scores, but is also responsible for outlet ball and breaks. I feel the eggs are all in Evan Regan’s basket and whether he can step up and be that marquee forward that Mayo crave.

The argument I constantly hear against Regan is that he struggles to win his own ball. The response to that surely is that alone shouldn’t stop him playing off someone else in a three-man full-forward line. Good forwards adapt and play to their strengths. If Mayo play Evan Regan, then he should be judged purely on what he scores in every game — not his turnovers, kilometres covered, tackles won etc. He has 14 team-mates to worry about all that.

Mayo are capable in every area. Correctly organised, they are a force, aerobically they tick all the boxes. It’s the remaining boxes at issue.


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