If Stephen Rochford had any notion that the Mayo manager’s job was going to be a bed of roses and that the press and public would be forgiving for the settling in period then he was met with a rude awakening in Pairc Ui Rinn, Cork, last Sunday. On top of Mayo’s lethargic and very under par performance, three more players were added to the enormous injury/unavailable list, and serious question marks were asked about the Mayo medical team’s decision to leave Lee Keegan on the field after a head collision with Cork power house Eoghan Cadogan.
It really was a nightmare first round national league debut for the new manager and one which left him a forlorn figure after the final whistle. Let’s deal with the last matter first. I am glad the county board and medical team have put their hands up and admitted they made an error with Keegan. Lee Keegan is a warrior, you will probably find that half of the blood in his body is green, he epitomises all that is good about Mayo football, a quiet unassuming man off the pitch, a tiger on it. Keegan was captaining Mayo for the first time last Sunday and truly did not want to look like he was throwing in the towel despite being worse for wear. He fought with the medics to stay on the field, he did not want to succumb to Cork and as a result he was left on the field. It was only some minutes later we realised he was in trouble when we quite literally watched him wobble off. The most important points here are firstly that he will make a full recovery, secondly that the necessary parties admitted their mistake, and thirdly that a lesson will be learned and it will not happen again. Despite the negative publicity and comments after the game we have to realise we have one of the best if not the best medical team in intercounty football.
I mentioned in last week’s column that the delay in appointing Rochford could be to our detriment for the early part of the league. It was there for all to see last Sunday. Cork were fitter, sharper, and able to hit the ground running for the start of their league campaign, and literally tore holes in a very flat Mayo defence all day long. Only for a string of brilliant saves from Robbie Hennelly and Cork letting Mayo score the last five points of the game, when they clearly took their foot off the pedal and were down to 13 players, this could have been a massacre of the 1993 variety. The fitness issue of course can be worked on, however not over a period of six days so you will have to be fearful for when the Blue army hit the county town on Saturday night.
With Lee Keegan, Kevin McLoughlin, and possibly Mickey Sweeney now added to the ever growing casualty list, it can only be described as a very worrying crisis. Those injuries have opened the door for some players to get a chance but confidence will not be at a premium after last Sunday, and if players take a roasting from their direct opponents again against the Dubs, it could be the beginning of the end for some. I do not recall leaving a Mayo game before when every single outfield player played second fiddle to his direct opponent as happened in Cork. Rochford has a big decision to make for the Dublin game. Risk some big name players who may not be fully fit in the hope of having a go at Dublin, or give these players a little more time to recover to try to have a strong squad for the trip to Ballybofey where picking up two points might be a little more achievable than it will be against the All-Ireland champions. Of course I expect whatever Mayo team takes the field against Dublin to be competitive, I just feel with the performance in Cork, the injury list and players not being up to speed just yet the Donegal match is a more viable option. I would be playing 13 men in my own half against Dublin and go for damage limitation because if Mayo tries to defend one on one with the Dubs as they did against Cork, they will tear you apart when you are at peak fitness never mind when you are lagging behind in that department.
The joys of inter-county management. I am still looking forward to what should be a cracking occasion just like last year; a different result would be the tonic, however the Dubs look like they mean business from the start of this league campaign so I will not be too hopeful of a result.
What a rare occasion it will be in Croke Park next Saturday afternoon with two Mayo clubs playing in All-Ireland finals. Both Ardnaree and Hollymount Carramore will find it difficult against Templenoe and St Mary’s Cahirsiveen respectively in the junior and intermediate finals and will need to play out of their skin but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that we might have two All Ireland cups in the county on Saturday evening. Best of luck to both clubs.
And if that's not enough for you, you can here John and Mayo Advertiser Sports Editor talk about the Cork game and look forward to Dublin's visit to Castelebar on Saturday night in our latest podcast