First shock, then disbelief, but come yesterday evening, the mood among the Mayo football public had turned sour.
The county has had its brush with player revolt against a management team in the past, but it has been the manner of this latest mutiny that has left a bad taste, certainly among those to wear the red and green in recent decades.
Why did team captain Keith Higgins and vice-captain Cillian O’Connor seek to meet with Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly in Castlebar on the same afternoon the latter returned from a family holiday when a review meeting was scheduled to take place with the county board executive tomorrow night. Could their reservations with management not wait until Thursday’s meeting. What was their urgency?
If their intention was to make a definitive statement of intent, that they certainly achieved.
Most head-scratching of all is that neither Higgins nor O’Connor, it is alleged, offered an explanation to the joint managers as to why a vote of no confidence was taken when the four men sat down together on Sunday.
There had been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among the Mayo players over preparations earlier in the season, but it is understood those concerns were ironed out during a pre-championship training camp in Portugal.
Into the summer then and Galway, Sligo and Donegal were overcome with a bit to spare. Roses abloom in the garden.
Two weeks on from the replay defeat to Dublin, the majority of the squad met in a dressing room at Ballyheane clubhouse. When all votes were counted, the outlook was bleak for Connelly and Holmes. Players wanted change.
It is believed that Sunday’s meeting between management and Higgins and O’ Connor was not leaked to either the Mayo News or the The Connaught Telegraph late on Monday evening by a member of the squad, but rather by individuals who wished to bring the players into the eye of the storm.
“I have had several phone calls from former players, former underage managers; everyone is in the same boat in that there is a strong sense of sorrow over the manner it has been conducted,” said former Mayo footballer John Casey.
“It is somewhat embarrassing that we are in the headlines nine days after the football final and we are in it for all the wrong reasons.
"The players’ motivation is hardly something simple like they didn’t like the hotel picked for one of the matches. It couldn’t be that trivial or simple. It has to be a major reason, a reason that they see Mayo didn’t win the All-Ireland because manager done this.”
Martin Carney, meanwhile speaking on RTÉ News last night, took a very dim view of their actions.
“This time last year we were told they didn’t want certain people in Kevin McStay’s backroom team. Now, they don’t want this management. What manager in his right mind would want to come in and manage Mayo?”
County secretary Vincent Neary is dearly hoping to avoid another winter of discontent. Describing the vote of no confidence as a “bombshell”, he pleaded with player representatives to attend a meeting with board officials tomorrow night.
“We need to tease this out,” he told Newstalk’s Off The Ball.
“We have a process in place to avoid controversies such as this and furthermore, no reasons were given why this has happened.
“We have Mike Connelly (county board chairman and Noel’s brother) in there as liaison officer and there would always have been a great relationship between players and management.”
Billy Joe Padden reckons the sense of empowerment handed down to players during James Horan’s four-year term was a factor in their actions over the past fortnight.
“The previous regime had empowered them in terms of preparations, what happens on the field and even some of the pre-match stuff. There was a core leadership group there that had a big say in what happened.
“I am speculating here, but when you are used to having power as a player and deciding what happened, if that gets taken away from you, it is very hard to play under those circumstances,” he said on Newstalk Radio.
Casey has his own take on the Horan factor.
“His shadow is always going to be hung over, but players shouldn’t be picking managers. The boys haven’t even got 12 months. I feel sorry for them.
"They are all former team-mates of mine, James, Noel and Pat. I know what they are all about. They would do anything for the good of Mayo. Things were just conducted badly.
“Could James go back in that soon? I don’t think the players should decide if James Horan is the next manager or not. We need a statement from the county board immediately so this is not dragging on for the next two weeks.
“I’d say Noel and Pat are like ostriches with their heads buried. They are mortified and it is not a nice place to be. They are two friends of mine.
"I would speak to them regularly, on and off the field. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. This should have been conducted better.”
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