COROFIN football club were going reasonably well. They had won four Galway senior titles in six years from 2006 to 2011 and played in two All-Ireland Club semi-finals against Kilmacud Crokes and St Galls in 2008 and 2009.
However, they lost both of those semi-finals and despite winning another county title in 2011, there was a feeling among some of the senior players, like David Morris and Ciarán McGrath, it was time for a change. A fresh pair of eyes was required. A new voice. And someone who would coach in a slightly different manner. It was time to go outside the club for guidance for the first time.
It was a big call. But that is what they wanted. And the name on their ‘Wanted’ poster was Stephen Rochford. His reputation as a young, top-class, superbly organised coach with fresh ideas and ambition had been flagged by stints with the Mayo minors as a selector, with the Ballinrobe U21s and with GMIT where many of the younger Corofin players had studied.
They spoke highly of him, and a delegation was dispatched to Ballinrobe to suss Rochford out, on crossing the border. Having been passed over by the Mayo board in a contest for the county U21 job, Rochford wanted a new challenge, a new start. And Corofin was it. It proved to be a match made in heaven. For both parties.
Current Corofin senior manager Kevin O’Brien was a selector with Rochford for the three years he was with the club, from 2013, until he left last October with a third consecutive county title and the All-Ireland club victory in 2015 on his managerial CV.
O’Brien speaks extremely highly of the Crossmolina man. “Roch is a fabulous manager. His man-management skills are top class. He gave everyone a chance when he came in and had no agenda coming into the club. In his first year with us, he set a terrific standard of preparation and expectation of success and doing things the right way. Roch outlined what he wanted, and he rewarded players who worked hard and bought into what we were about.”
“His motto was ‘No work, no reward’. And that applied to everyone, no matter who they were. In our first season with Stephen in charge, older lads like Kevin Murphy and Barry O’Donovan who had been on the panel for a few years and never played championship, were given starting jerseys and won county medals on the field of play. That sent out a clear message to everyone. ‘I don’t care who you are, if you are working hard enough on your game, we will give you a chance.’ Lads bought into that message.”
O’Brien, who also has a managerial role in his day job in Boston Scientific, knew the first time he met Rochford that they had the right man.
“We met, just the two of us in the Belclare car park when he asked me to be one of his selectors. I told my wife that evening when I got home that we were going to go places with him in charge. His ambition was obvious from that first meeting. Roch is meticulous in his preparation and he has a magnificent knowledge of the game and the club players in both Galway and Mayo. I was amazed at how much he knew about the guys who play with the different clubs in Galway and it was obvious he was not a man to take half-measures.
“I was really impressed with his diligence and in particular with his empathy and affection for the players in our squad. He treats people with respect and that is vital in team management.
“One of the things I like about him is he is prepared to listen to people. He is very personable and is always willing to learn. He believed in empowering the players to take on the responsibility of setting their own personal targets and helping them achieve them. Every single player on our panel improved during the three years that Roch was with us. In fact, the intermediates and juniors used to love coming training too when there was space, as his coaching is top-class.”
The Corofin team captain when they won the All-Ireland in 2015 was Michael Farragher and he sings off the same hymn sheet as O’Brien.
“Roch is the best manager I ever played under. Fact. And that includes a few county managers too. He is seriously shrewd and we would have immense respect for him. I would never feel comfortable telling him I could not make training for a wedding, or college, or work, or anything to be honest. The mutual respect between him and all the players was and still is, huge. We all knew the effort he was putting in himself and how dedicated he was to what we were trying to achieve. Roch would often leave Castlerea in Roscommon, call in home to Ballinrobe, and be in Corofin until 10pm and then head down back the road.
“His man-management skills are awesome. Roch is a very likeable character and he brings out the best in people. He could have the craic when it was needed, but he knew how to set the tone with us too and his attention to detail was unreal. I remember the two of us sat down a few months before the All-Ireland final in a restaurant called The West Wing in Tuam and he chatted non-stop for an hour about the plans he had and what exactly we were going to do and how we were going to do it. I knew coming out of that meeting we would definitely win the All-Ireland final. He just inspired us to be the best that we could be, and the bottom line is that he made our dream come true.”
O’Brien believes Rochford can make that happen for Mayo on Sunday too.
“Roch is a great judge of character. Bringing in the likes of Tony McEntee, a proven winner, who has coached at a high level in both Crossmaglen and Dublin was a great call. Roch was also mature enough and cute enough to keep Donie Buckley involved to maintain continuity in the Mayo set-up and he has assembled a serious backroom team around him since he has been there.
“Stephen is always pushing people to add more value to the overall setup. No more than when he was with Corofin, he is in a dressing room full of top-class players now. Keegan, Boyle, Higgins, the O’Connors and the O’Sheas are very experienced players. They will know and believe that Roch is the man to help get them across the line on Sunday.
“Dublin are favourites and based on form, that is understandable. However, having Roch in charge is a colossal boost to Mayo’s chances and there will be no stone left unturned.
“He is a single-minded and confident guy, and the Mayo lads will feed off that confidence.
“It could make all the difference.”
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