Player power. As frowned upon phrases in Gaelic games go, it’s right up there. The alliteration only goes to underline its perceived foulness.
What Mayo did last autumn wasn’t done lightly, certainly not as casually as those who linked the Connacht semi-final defeat to Galway with the opposition to Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes. Connacht was a conquered domain; it merely offered a step to this Mayo group and that evidently wasn’t enough of a motivation.
It’s stressed ad nauseam that uprisings, especially against managers, don’t work. After Páidí Ó Sé was removed as Kerry manager in 2003, a strong player group expressed their dissatisfaction but not to the point of withdrawing their services. A year later, they were All- Ireland champions under Jack O’Connor.
Cork hurlers’ 2004 and ’05 All-Ireland successes would suggest there was plenty of worth in rallying against the establishment although what has since followed has been far from pretty and acts as a warning about the legacy of such sustained revolution.
Waterford’s hurlers have done it not once but twice. After ousting Justin McCarthy, they reached an All-Ireland final for the first time in 45 years albeit the occasion was wholly forgettable for them. Two years later, they claimed a Munster title.
When Michael Ryan was told to step away by players in 2013, more disappointment followed in a mediocre 2014 season but they have since rejuvenated themselves with Derek McGrath’s restorative qualities. It could be argued Limerick’s hurlers may never have found themselves languishing in Division 1B as they do now had so many of them not made themselves unavailable to Justin McCarthy in 2010. They were other factors too, of course, but losing all seven league games and their two championship outings that year was a costly price for the county board to pay in backing the Cork native against the wishes of the players.
Galway’s hurlers may not have reached an All-Ireland final this year, as they did in 2015, yet strangely enough, there appear more grounds for optimism after losing to Tipperary than after beating them in 2015.
Laois footballers are not All-Ireland contenders but as a collective, they felt they couldn’t progress under Mick Lillis. Although the move was done quietly, it won’t stop supporters asking more questions of them next season. Rumblings of another potential heave in Leinster won’t go away until the said manager is on the sideline in January.
Player power is often identified as the work of older players who either feel their chances of glory are rapidly fading or have been hindered by management and the next stop is Palookaville. But on Mayo’s part, there was a determined collective of men in their mid-20s who had been given ownership of their fate by James Horan, noticed that standards had slipped and elected to take action.
A couple of weeks after losing the 2014 All-Ireland semi-final replay, Aidan O’Shea said Mayo would not be deterred from their crusade. We’re paraphrasing him, but he rhetorically asked if people expected them to give up and die. Horan had gone at that stage and Connelly and Holmes had not yet been appointed.
They, the players, have been the constants throughout their quest.
They now have their fourth manager in Stephen Rochford but where once they may have strode behind their leaders they now walk with him.
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