Not long after they had overseen a win in their debut contest as the joint managers of the Mayo senior football team, Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes came out of the dressing room to speak to the local press corp in the concrete tunnel under the bowls of the stand in Elverys MacHale Park.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, both of the men took turns in answering the questions and first off, Holmes said that he was happy with the result but there was much work to be done. “We're happy to have won the game, we came in with the intention of looking at new players and obviously we did that today and we're only into our training schedule and we've a lot to do. We made a huge amount of mistakes and have an awful lot to work on, but we're happy all the same.”
It was tough examination of their credentials from a NUIG side with bigger things on their mind in the coming weeks, Connelly added. “They are in Sigerson next month, they are obviously at a bigger level of fitness than we are, they came out of the blocks hard, they attacked us really hard when we were in possession. The competed very well around the middle of the park and they drove forward really well and caused us a lot of problems. Even at the end you could see it, the fitness levels they had there led to them creating a couple of goal chances, Robbie pulled off (a save for one ) and the other went wide. On the balance of play they were every bit as good as us, but for us building a team it was nice to win it and to see new fellas in new positions too.”
As for what they told their players before hand and what the expected to see from them on the field the message was simple according to Holmes. Work hard, that was it, simple as that. We wanted fellas to work hard, it's January 4th , you want to improve fitness levels and you want to work hard and have work ethic. That was the message.”
He went on to say that, “We did some very, very good things and got some good turnovers, maybe not in the first half, but in the second half we did and I suppose we've a lot to work on, but the work ethic of the lads out there was good and the fitness levels have a long way to go yet for the lads, but everyone worked very, very hard.
The management team brought over 20 new players on a strength and conditioning program before Christmas and Noel said that they expect to see a few more faces in the next few weeks, before the squad is pared down saying. “We've let a few of the u21 fellas back into the u21 system, we had the FBD today where we had three debutants, we'll have more over the next two games at least, we'll be seeing the rest of the new guys in the panel, we've had two trial games already, so between the two trial games and the two FBD games we should be in a good position to finailse the panel or down to the late 30s until the league campaign starts.” As for how many of those brought in that he expects to see make a dent in and challenge the established players for a place in the championship squad, Connelly was hopeful that a few would come through. “It's difficult to say at this stage having seen only three games, but you'd be hoping five or six would come to the fore and be pushing hard for league positions and further on in the championship, that they'll be there or there about come June and the championship. We have these 20 in and these are lads we've been told about, we've watched ourselves through u21s and (club ) championship and we think that they deserve a chance and you won't really find out their true metal until you test them against the guys that are already in there. Even at this stage you can see guys that are coming to the fore and the lads that wouldn't be up to it. But thats up to us to decide and by the end of January, it'll be down to late 30s in the panel.” While Holmes added that, “realistically, we're only getting our panel back together because of there is an awful lot of fellas in the core panel who would have been there for a lot of years, they've taken a break. They are only coming back into training now. We're blending in the new with the established and it's like anything, you're looking for the key message and any team you're working with is to work hard and everybody is working hard and we can't ask anymore than that.”
Earlier in the weekend it was announced that Keith Higgins had been appointed as the new full time Mayo captain. The Ballyhaunis defender was the duos captain when they guided Mayo to an All Ireland u21 title in 2006. Speaking about the appointment, Connelly said “You know, Andy had done a great job over the last four or five years. We needed a true leader on the field and if you're looking around the established players, Keith Higgins stands out a mile above everybody else. You get that 100 per cent commitment every day he goes out and that's what we're looking for and we think he's an ideal example and will be Cillian O'Connor as vice-Captain.”
While Holmes added in that their knowledge of working with Keith as their captain before in the past was part of the decision making process saying, “Obviously, we know Keith as we do most of the players from 2006 to 2009, so of course it would have played a part in the decision, but at the end of the day what you're looking from from a captain and any player is that you'd have a lot of leaders on the pitch and will be leading by example, no better man than Keith and the same with Cillian, both have shown that. We've one at either side of the field which is nice as well. We think we've two quality men, but not just the two boys we'd expect a lot more to stand up as well and when we're talking about leaders we're talking about performances as well.”