In sports management, it is often said that when a successful manager leaves a job, you want to be the guy, who follows the guy, who followed the successful guy. Because following in the immediate footsteps of someone who brought great success is a very tricky task to master. But when Pat Holmes decided that he was going to step away from the Castlebar Mitchels’ hot seat following their defeat in last March’s All Ireland final after guiding them to county and provincial glory for the first time in two decades, his two trusty lieutenants Shane Conway and Alan Nolan stepped up to fill gap and they have bought them back to the county final at the first time of asking.
Joint management tickets seem to be in vogue in the county at the minute, with Castlebar’s opponents on Sunday, Ballintubber, also having a joint management team of Peter Ford and Tony Duffy. Mitchels’ former manager Pat Holmes is now part of the new joint Mayo senior team management ticket alongside Noel Connelly.
Shane Conway has embraced the more front of house role since he and Alan Nolan were handed the reins, but he says a lot of that is down to the players’ commitment to the cause. “We came back at the start of April, but they’re an incredible bounce of lads and people say that about lots of different teams. But this group is phenomenally hungry and they just wanted to go again. It was amazing, within a few days of the game in Croke Park the lads were wondering what’s happening and just wanted to go again as quick as possible. There are differences, you’ve to deal with things maybe we didn’t have to deal with last year. In terms of dealing with the players it’s exactly the same as last year, all you want is for the players to give their best and they do. They just want to get out on the pitch and prove themselves every time, they want to take a little bit of guidance and we hope we can give them that guidance to help them.”
Winning start will count for little
Their first championship game as the management team was of course against Ballintubber in Clogher back in May, they got the win they wanted, but Conway believes it could have an impact on Sunday’s game, as far as he is concerned it was just another match. “Some people will say it does, everyone has to get up for a game in their own way. As a group we just look at each game on its own merits and just look at it as a game, and hope we give a performance ourselves. I know it was built up to be a big game, but it was the first round of the championship, it turns out being a final in the end. But it’s a local game, any game with local interest like that where you’ve lads who know each other, went to school together, and played with each other, it’ll be good. Over the last few years a big rivalry, I suppose, has built up, lads will get up for those types of things.”
Mitchels have got through the championship without looking like they were over exerting themselves, and just doing what they needed to win, without being clinical. But all Conway cares about is that they are winning. “If you go back to this time last year people were saying the same, that we were winning games and just doing enough to win games, and it was only when we got out of Mayo people looked up and said, ‘Oh these guys can play’, maybe the pressure was off a bit. When you’re playing in Mayo it’s always going to be hard, lads know each other so well, they know their strengths and weakness, you might get a run on them for a while, but they’ll get a run on you then for a time. If you win by a point or two in a Mayo championship match, you’re happy.”
Getting the decisions right
Castlebar will not be able to call on the services of one of their players after Ger McDonagh picked up a knee injury in training before the semi-final, but that will not stop him having a big involvement on the day, Conway says. “Ger is the only one who is out, he’ll be a big loss on the pitch. But he’s a great man to have on the sideline, you’ll always find him at training and there with us on match days.”
As for when it comes to sitting down and picking the team, there has been plenty of discussion among all the management team according to Conway. “There’s three of us that pick the team, myself, Alan, and Eamon [Kennedy], we sit down and pick it and discuss an awful lot of things, lads’ form, what we can do to bring something new to the next training. But when we sit down to pick a team we do it to the nth degree and try and come up with the best choice. You don’t want anyone to be agreeing too much or you may as well have just one person. The idea is you bounce ideas off each other until you come to the best conclusion.”
As for picking their side to suit the opposition they are playing, Conway believes that it is more important to make sure that Castlebar are right themselves before looking at what the opposition are doing. “The way it is in any game you’ve to concentrate on yourself, you can’t be thinking of what the other team are doing if you don’t have yourself right first. Our concentration has been on ourselves and making sure we perform as well as we can to our game plan, we hope to play to the best of our ability, but you have to play it as you see it on the pitch.”
Last year’s success was a long time coming for Castlebar and he feels it has liberated the players a bit more, not having the pressure of the county town not winning the county title in two decades. “Castlebar have a lot of good very talented players, but it’s not even the talent, it’s that they are good men, fine fellas outside of football as well. When people were talking about not having won it for so long, it did add extra pressure and attention because of the club it is and the history they have. When we got out of Mayo we were a bit liberated from the shackles, there wasn’t much expectation and where there isn’t that’s the time to be wary of us.”