Not exactly full of enthusiasm about Sunday’s All-Ireland final? Sure, me too. But fear not because the gift that just keeps on giving – the GAA equivalent of a Netflix blockbuster series – has come good once again. No county does GAA soap operas like we do and, boy, this time we’ve put on quite the production.
I understand, though I don’t fully accept, the outpouring of anger expressed here and, in a far more unchained way, across social media about how we’ve got to this situation. It’s fairly clear who all and sundry are blaming – without pointing to any specifics – for what went down yesterday.
In his resignation statement, Stephen Rochford states unambiguously that he resigned because of a lack of support for him within the County Board Executive. That he didn’t have complete backing was fairly evident since Newbridge, in particular in light of the repeated – and repeatedly unhelpful – statements by Chairman Mike Connelly that acted to increase the temperature and heap unnecessary pressure on the manager.
But Stephen surely didn’t help himself either. Despite the two-year extension to his term agreed late last year, his position was always going to be in doubt after Newbridge. Managers are judged – often in the harshest light – on their results. And our results this year, culminating in our elimination from the championship before June was over, were far from pretty.
If I’m honest, I expected Stephen to walk then. In the days after Newbridge, though, hints started to emerge that he intended to soldier on, though by then it was an open secret that neither Donie Buckley nor Tony McEntee would not be on his ticket in 2019.
A key building block in arriving at yesterday’s horrific denouement was, then, the long delay in Stephen declaring his intention to stay on. It wasn’t until the middle of this month, seven weeks after Newbridge, that he finally made his intentions known. This news came a full two weeks after it was confirmed that his key lieutenants would not be with him on the sideline in 2019.
It was into that gap that Mike Connelly’s blundering contributions about finances and who we should have on the team were poured. Then, when Stephen did eventually declare his hand, further unhelpful utterances from the Chairman, in particular that really daft one only last week about having to have the backroom team sorted by the end of August, were ladled on top.
Despite this, it should still have been possible to get Stephen’s new backroom team over the line this week. While it’s beyond dispute now that there was less than fulsome support within the Executive for Stephen’s choices, it’s not clear – certainly not to me – that there was outright hostility either.
A divergence of views in this, by the way, shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a negative. We’d had a disastrous 2018, Stephen was having to assemble a new backroom team for 2019 and it was only natural that those tasked with signing off on this would have had their own opinions on the merits of those on the list.
But there’s a further factor here, one that has in all the commentary had barely a mention but which, to my mind, is relevant to our arriving at this pass. Over the last number of weeks there have been those stories about Jim McGuinness possibly coming in and there have also been repeated well-timed leaks from inside the Mayo GAA organisation. Who was behind all this and what was their agenda? It certainly wasn’t a campaign aimed at providing stability in an uncertain period.
And so all the various plot-lines came together in spectacular fashion yesterday. More leaking, rumours and counter-rumours and, finally, the fateful announcement. As I said at the top, nobody in the GAA world puts on a public performance like we do.
After the Kildare defeat I remember thinking about that old saying that a good crisis should never be wasted. Our early elimination from the championship – in large part arguably the result of going so hard for glory the previous two years – could, in that light, be seen as an opportunity for us to use the free time productively and, for the first time in a while, be fully prepared for the new year of football once 2019 came around.
But we’ve now squandered the first two months of that. Worse still, we’ve lost the manager at precisely the time when our 2019 plans should be starting to crank up and instead have been forced into another hot-housed managerial appointment, one that’s sure to be played out under the full glare of the media. So, instead of using what befell us this year as a springboard for doing better in 2019 we’ve now managed to stumble into an even bigger calamity, one that will surely weaken us greatly next year and beyond.
It’s difficult even to think about where we go from here. We’ll get a new manager, eventually, and 2019 will come around and we’ll play ball and we’ll see what happens then. But who that is and how we fare out is anyone’s guess. My own expectation is that it’s unlikely to be pretty.
I always use to laugh when, during those years when we were really flying and when the buzz about the team and our performances on the national stage were rarely less than exhilarating, a small discontented rump of supporters kept on constantly pointing out what we were doing wrong. My logic was simple: we were living through our best period by far in the modern era so why not enjoy it?
Well, be in no doubt that that halcyon era is at an end. The doomsayers now hold the floor and the good days are but a set of rapidly diminishing memories. We may, if we ever get our collective act together, rise again but right now we’re busted. It’s over. This show has no happy ending.