Mayo manager Stephen Rochford doesn’t believe his team are under any more pressure this season than any other year as they once again try to end an All-Ireland famine going back to 1951.
Each season just seems to bring another layer of disappointment and anguish for a county with a fantastic support base, but Rochford doesn’t think anything has changed in terms of expectation.
The concession of two own-goals to lose a third All-Ireland final in five years just about summed up what the Red and Green have had to endure, but as he embarks on his second championship in charge, Rochford doesn’t believe pressure has ramped up.
“I don’t think there’s any more or any less. We have high expectations of ourselves. We set our own standards quite high. When we don’t meet those there’s nobody, or a group, that’s more disappointed than ourselves. We expect a lot of ourselves. We set our own levels of expectation within the group. We can’t control or look to dampen expectations outside.
“It’s not something that we control so it’s not something that we waste any energy on,” he said.
In Castlebar on Sunday, His men set out against Sligo to begin the process of reclaiming a Connacht title snatched from them last season by Galway, just when Mayo seemed destined to complete an unprecedented six in a row in the province.
On the face of it, Mayo look to be turning to the same players who have gone so close in recent years, but Rochford disputes this and feels there are other options available.
“If you look at the two groups in the two final games of the national league, the six players that would have come off the bench in those two games would have all been involved in the All-Ireland final just three or four months previously, four of them would have started.
“That was a campaign where we didn’t have the likes of Ger Cafferkey, we didn’t have Seamus O’Shea for the league, Alan Dillon, Barry Moran. If you tot up all of those players, we are now into the high 20s as regards that competitive element. Fergal Boland, Danny Kirby had a lot of games, Donnie Newcombie, Shane Nally, David Drake.
“All those players are in the group now and pushing hard and we are really, really happy with the quality of squad and we feel it’s the strongest the squad has been over the last number of years.”
And while their league form was mixed, Rochford said they learned a lot from the campaign.
“We would be disappointed with one or two results. We gained two points more than we gained in the league in 2016. We finished on the same amount of points as the team that won the league. On another day maybe we would be there.
“That’s not to suggest that we deserve to be there more than anyone else. The league can be really tight, it can be fickle to pin your full thoughts on how the next game or the championship may look. But it’s a really competitive environment.
“We are delighted with the level of competition within the group. At this moment in time it’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be difficult. And there will certainly be players that will be disappointed that they are not in the 15, and disappointed that they are not in the 26.”
And while Mayo are being bracketed with Dublin and Kerry as the frontrunners for the All-Ireland, it’s not something occupying Rochford’s mind — and he’s not letting those issue loose in the dressing room.
“It’s not something that I have given any thought to. It’s not something that you sit back and say, ‘I wonder which one of us will be there in September’. If you get into that space you certainly can’t be preaching to your players to be focused.
“Genuinely, Sligo is the only talk around our dressing room. What will be, will be in relation to what two teams get to the third week in September. We would love to be thinking that it would be us but we understand that we only get there by winning each game as it comes and the challenges that they present.”
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