Mayo manager Stephen Rochford says he is looking forward to the 2018 season and that almost all roads really lead to the Connacht Championship quarter-final in May. Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser earlier this week the Crossmolina native said some fans may be disappointed with the 2018 national league, especially those who feel Mayo underachieved in the past few years.
He told the Mayo Advertiser: “It can all depend on what somebody considers success in the league. Only one team is going to win the league but that doesn’t necessarily mean the other seven teams were unsuccessful in the league. I don’t think that was necessarily the way it was for us in 2017. We finished on the same amount of points as Kerry and they went on to win it. The league in 2018 will continue to prove a challenge for us as the core of the squad will be on holidays for 10 days in January and the league now starts in January as well. We also have the challenge of a lot of players are based in Dublin and we don’t have that contact time with them that other counties are afforded. That’s a challenge Mayo has had to deal with over many decades and will continue to be challenged by. Our first point will be to ensure we survive in division one. Some people may be disappointed and think that’s a little bit negative but I think it’s more realistic. We will be going out to win every game, and if that means midway through the league if we are in a good position that means driving on and aiming to get to a league final we will do that also.”
However the Mayo boss, who recently agreed to extend his term until the end of the 2020 season, will be aiming for a place in the league final if Mayo are in the running. “What you’re looking at is that the players will have about 11 games in a 12 week period up to the end of March. If we play another game that’s 12 games in 13 weeks. That in itself can prove to be another challenge when you consider a possible FBD final as well. While games are brilliant and you can see in a championship context it brings the team on, it also doesn’t afford you much opportunity to be able to develop a game plan or develop an understanding of what you want. It’s trying to get that balance but certainly if the opportunity arises for us to get to a league final we will take it.”
January’s FBD campaign, which begins on Sunday, January 7, with the first of three clashes this year against Galway, along with the National League, will afford new players a chance to stake their claim for a championship jersey. “That’s what every training session as well as every game is about. It’s about guys performing, getting more comfortable with what the management want to see. There is certainly going to be an opportunity there for 15 or 20 guys in the early weeks of January to stake a claim. Some of those guys will have been involved previously but maybe haven’t played championship, and then there will be some guys in their very early twenties. It’s important to look to the future and see what these guys can give to Mayo, not just in 2018 but also 2019, 2020, and further down the line.”
Touching on the 2017 season, Rochford says he was disappointed at some of the media criticism of Mayo players during the 2017 season but it did not have a negative effect on the players and will not in 2018 either. On last year’s criticism, which included Bernard Flynn’s criticism of Aiden O’Shea taking selfies with fans and Eamon Sweeney’s column describing Mayo management as donkeys, Rochford said: “I would like to think it had no effect on the players and that was probably evidenced by their performances more often than not. We got to understand that we take a great comfort from what we’re doing within the camp and understand as well where we’re going. That doesn’t necessarily always transfer into the game performance, but as I said I don’t believe the group ever lack for determination or effort, sometimes we just come up second best.
“If you’re going to go into this job you have to understand that people are going to make noise. People are paid to give a headline or soundbite, and in that we just have to try and remain focused. It’s unfortunate and disappointing that a team that’s consistently competing at the top table are in some way sort of singled out. But if that’s what it is then that’s what it is. It’s a bit disappointing. For me, when it starts to get a little bit personal, and that happened with one or two of our players this year, I don’t think that’s something that should be encouraged.”
The Crossmolina native, who has brought Mayo to an All-Ireland final through the back door in both his seasons in charge, admitted the hurt of last September’s one point defeat to Dublin does still linger. “I think of course we continue to be disappointed that we didn’t win, but it’s a case of just adjusting and moving on. This winter is no different really to the last 60 or so have been for us insofar as we all dream of finally getting across the line and having Sam Maguire, but it wasn’t to be and in the 2018 season we will be afforded the opportunity to make that somewhat different.”
He continued: “I think the team has always given everything they could in any game they have played. It’s never been from a lack of effort or desire that they haven’t got over the line. I think 2017 hurt because all of us, players, management, and supporters, were so invested in it especially with many trips on the road. I think we played eight of our 10 games on the road and we got tremendous support up and down the country. We were on a journey, literally, everybody was on that and we were in it together. There are many things about the 2017 season that have me very much encouraged to what lies ahead in 2018 and maybe even further. We played really well, especially when we got back to Croke Park, and for me I genuinely believe that we can go better and be more consistent in our performances, and in that sense I think we can be very optimistic about giving 2018 a good rattle. Certainly with the Connacht championship in mind.”