This weekend Stephen Rochford will take his first training session with the Mayo senior team, just three weeks out from their first game of the 2016. Last Thursday night Rochford met the press for the first time since his appointment and spoke at length about his hopes and the challenges ahead for the next year and much more.
How have the first few days been for you?
SR: “It’s been quite busy, trying to keep the nine to five going and we’re very much focused on our first get together with the group next weekend. Trying to put together a squad, that level of communication and trying to finish off the last couple of bits of the back room team and so on, it’s been busy at the same time very enjoyable.”
Who are your own coaching influences?
SR: “I’ve been luck to have played under quite a few and played with a lot of good footballers as well who’ve influenced me also. But going back to John Cosgrove in Crossmolina, right through to Gerry Leonard in Ballina in secondary school days who gave me some real step through guides in coaching all the way through to Kevin McStay at u21 level, he would have left me with a number of nuggets that I’ve brought in. In wider club level Tommy Jordan (manager of the 2001 All Ireland winning Crossmolina team ) they’d be the major influences, but I played with a lot of good players as well and picked up a couple of bits and pieces as well that I find I’m bringing to the managerial role.”
What about John Maughan?
SR: “Obviously I left out John, because I knew you’d ask me. It’s 10 or 12 years since I played under John, when he came back to Crossmolina a second time I was doing a bit of coaching too, but very much around that discipline and structure aspect he would have given me good example of that.”
How are things looking injury wise are you fully up to speed?
SR: “No is the real answer, but I am aware of Cillian’s long term injury, Michael Conroy will be out for the early part of the league, have to see what March will bring, then you have the Castlebar contingent who aren’t injured but we won’t have access to them until at least mid February. But that’s where things are on that an injury front. A few other knocks, Andy Moran and Alan Dillon have a slight knock, but we really won’t know the length of time that they will be out, but will be two to three weeks.
Any retirments on the hoizon?
SR: “There hasn’t been any indication of retirements or stepping back at this moment in time anyway. I haven’t spoken at length to all the players yet. I’ve spoken to a number of guys who are gone to America on a short holiday trip and I spoke to those before they went and they are all good and back on board.”
Will you be bringing in a number of new players for the FBD?
SR: “I suppose it depends on what number a lot is, I am anticipating that we’ll look at ten or 12 guys over the course of three rounds of the FBD and looking into the first two rounds of the national league. We are limited with time, we’re four weeks to the first round of the FBD, we’ll have to see. There are a number of guys from Castlebar who are on our radar to bring in, but obviously we won’t have access to them until they are out of the championship.”
Are they guys you’re binging in not from the 2015 panel?
SR:“Correct, our plan is to retain the 2015 squad in the short term, you take back your five guys that are on the Castlebar squad and the number of injuries, they you’re trying to supplement that back in with somewhere between 10 or 12 guys.”
Is it realistic that you can give those guys national league game time with the step up?
SR: “They are two massive games coming up in the national league, the record will show that we’ve had it difficult going to Cork, they are under new management themselves and I’m sure they are looking to impress on their home ground in their first game and we’ve got the All Ireland champions here on February 6. I wouldn’t be saying there is no chance for guys it’s really what the next seven to eight weeks will show. We’ll take it session by session, but guys will be challenged believe me over the next seven to eight weeks. Those that are showing a bit of form, why not.”
Are you in a position to name check the players coming in?
SR: “We haven’t finished to all, I have spoken to three or four, we’ll probably have that nailed down in the middle of next week.
What about a players like Richie Feeney whose been in great form for Castlebar?
SR: “Age is not a barrier from my perspective. You saw Alan Brogan this year, a quality player and he can still can do it at 34 so age is certainly not a barrier. Richie has got a very important game coming up in the middle of February and could be possibly back in an All-Ireland final. They all want to do very well but I would think that Richie is on a very specific mission if he gets back into Croke Park and we will assess all the Castlebar boys when they are out of the championship.
Is the first year best chance for this group?
SR: “I am not particularly concerned about the mileage. The modern footballer is conditioned and they have the very best of support be it strength and conditioning, medical, nutritionists so the longevity of the inter-county footballer, while even though it is attritional in nature, those guys, like Alan Brogan, can still go and I feel that our guys have that hunger to still go.
We are certainly not looking at any crucial dates, barring the first round of the league and our first trip in the championship heading for London.”
Is it a daunting task taking over Mayo?
SR: “Not particularly, I’m very honoured it’s my own home county. I understand that it’s a big job, but that’s a credit to the players and the previous management, that they have made it the job that it is. I’m just looking forward to green grass footballs and the end of December and early January.”
What’s the big difference between going from an elite club to inter county?
SR: “Obviously there’s a wider group, there’s a much expanded management team that requires your attention, but I also see that in that, there’s huge support available. There are a number of things that are quite positive from a county perspective verSus a club. I don’t expect there’ll be many times, I’ll be going looking for a guy and wondering why he hasn’t appeared at training for Mayo and if there is we definitely have a problem and stuff like chasing guys to get to physio, they are quite a challenge for a club team. Obviously, like tonights commitment and that they are part of the job, I wouldn’t have that level of it in club. I’ve come in with my eyes wide open, that level doesn’t surprise me and I’ve the hunger to get on and do it.
The past five years watching them as a supporter what is your over riding feelings of this a group. In terms of most Mayo supporters they would have admiration and frustration,is it similar for you?
SR: “I mean as a supporter, certainly we all hurt and grieve but the next day brings the opportunity to better that and drive on and that’s the way we’re looking at it. “We can’t change 2014 or 2015, or back as far as 1951. We’re looking at 2016 to write our own element of history, and that’s game by game, performance by performance.”
You got involved in coaching at a very young age, was there always the interest there to get involved in coaching?
SR: “I’ve always had huge interest in sport, be it soccer, gaelic, rugby, hurling and reading a few books or whatever on professional sports people and then getting into the elements around when any of us see good football or hurling or rugby or whatever, you get a sense of how did they get to that point. What did they take off a training field, what message was given, so that aspect has always interested me. My own experiences of good coaches breaking things down and seeing the good work on a field come off, be it just on one score and you know that’s something we tried last Tuesday or two months ago and it’s just come off. That silver bullet aspect always gave me a sense of happiness, it wouldn’t necessarily be something that spectators would be looking at, but seeing something that you do on a training field come off in a game always gave me a sense of that in itself would nearly be an aspect of accomplishment.
In Corofin you watched the first half of games from the stand rather than the sideline will you do the same with Mayo?
SR: “Yah, it’s something that in my first year in Corofin, I would have been on pitch side there would have been a lot of benefit in that from the point of view, you get a feeling for the tempo of the game and the pace, all those things. But I need to be nearly withdrawn from that at certain stages. The first half (from the stand ) gives you a really good view of the way the game is being played, the shape, what the opposition might be trying to do what’s happening in relation to execution you’re own game plan and that perspective withdrawn from the sideline allows me to go in with an informed basis at half time. Because really that is your final instructions, yah you can try and influence things off the sideline, but I think it’s a very limited period of time. Whereas I try to be in an informed position at half time and give direction to the team as much as possible.
How beneficial have the three years in Corofin been to you?
SR: “We’ve had a really good journey there and they have been three long years, but three very enjoyable years. Getting a perspective from playing teams around the country, getting different styles of play up against you and thankfully we’ve been successful in that period. We’ve came up against top club teams and top players in the country. My confidence has been built through that, we’ve had knocks and then had some really good days, but that’s life and times of a manager and I’d love to take that experience in Mayo and see how it goes.
Were there any voices saying no, don’t take this job?
SR: “No there wasn’t once the county final was out of the way in Galway and what happened with the previous management departure and that county final were pretty close together after that that period of time speaking to the management team and putting that together only hardened that message in my head to say this was a super time and a great opportunity, I never doubted it and as long as we could get the people I wanted with me.
What would constitute a good 2016?
SR: “I think we need to get back to a situation where we’re ultra competitive in all games. In any team there’ll be a few new players that’s inevitable and guys will have form some won’t we’ll introduce a few new players we haven’t set down with any big goals, we’re two days in the job and we’ll be competitive and we’ll be looking for a performance every day that we go out and we can be honest in ourselves and we did ourselves and the county proud and we’re going the right direction towards what our goals will be.”