Stephen Rochford: Top flight survival my priority

New Mayo manager Stephen Rochford has attempted to temper expectations in the county by admitting survival in Division 1 is his top priority.

Mayo travel to Cork this weekend without as many of 15 players because of club commitments and injuries. Keith Higgins is unlikely to feature this weekend but he could recover from his recent knee ailment in time to face Dublin on Saturday week. Former Crossmolina man Rochford also wants to shake up the team a little with personnel and positional changes.

He hasn’t discussed with the players at any point their decision to show no confidence in his predecessors Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes.

“I wasn’t there, I genuinely haven’t asked the questions. There was a process in place with the board and they’ve been working on aspects of that – 2016 is my view.”

Walking into such a demanding dressing room wasn’t a problem for him. “I don’t particularly think of it as any more of a challenge than anything else – 2015 is a history question in many ways. I don’t want that to sound very dark but all my focus is about 2016.

“In the short term, it is about going into the national league and survival knowing that we are going to be doing that on the basis that we are going to be missing a lot of players, trying a couple of new players and a bit of experimentation in that aspect as well.”

Retaining Donie Buckley’s services as coach was a no-brainer for Rochford who had approached him when he went for the Mayo U21 position four years ago: “Donie is well regarded as being one of the top coaches in the country and continuity is an important thing. We see that in other sports, rugby or soccer and I don’t think there’s a need for a clean brush.

Recruiting All-Ireland-winning player and manager Tony McEntee as a selector/coach was quite the catch and Rochford reports “the players have responded greatly to his voice in the dressing room and more importantly on the training field”.

Crossmaglen’s McEntee will oversee training for the Dublin-based players for the time being. “We have a big demand for someone to coach the number of guys we have in Dublin and he’s facilitating that in the middle of the week. Between our seniors and U21s, we have upwards of 20 players if all are fit so that was probably a help in spreading that load.”

Working on tactics, Rochford acknowledges, is difficult given the distance between the Castlebar group and the one in the capital – “We would hope that it’s not going to be a big issue but Mayo’s not getting any nearer to Dublin!”

Rochford has no intention of altering the free-flowing style that last year’s All-Ireland senior club champions Corofin operated during his tenure.

“I think in Mayo the big thing will be looking to transition that ball out of defence to attack as quickly as possible. Jim Gavin I’m sure will give you the same thing, or Eamonn Fitzmaurice, or Peadar Healy, it’s not a Louis van Gaal or Ronald Koeman or one of these guys type of philosophy.

“I think it’s as simple as ‘let’s get the ball from one end of the field to the other as quickly as possible’ and I think the best way to do that is by foot.”


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