Rochford and Mulligan ready to play their part
THERE wasn’t much to think about when returning to Mayo, as far as Stephen Rochford is concerned.
The former Mayo manager is back involved once again in the management setup for the Green and Red but this time as a number two to new manager Kevin McStay. Speaking to local and national media last Tuesday at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park, the role came about quite quickly.
"It wasn’t long and hard by any means; a quick reflection just as regards the role Kevin had set out to me but I think within 24 hours we were sitting down planning ahead," he offered.
"No more than what Kevin has said, being involved with Mayo it’s seven or eight years ago. It was a big job and I was involved in it and I loved every minute, even with difficult times, but I really loved it.
"The opportunity to come back and work with Kevin and seeing the plans that he had in place made that decision quite simple."
Rochford knows the pressures involved in Mayo’s top job. He has arguably come closer than any other manager since 1951 to bring Sam home, falling agonisingly short in narrow defeats to Dublin in the 2016 and 2017 All-Ireland finals, and there may be a sense the Crossmolina native is back to go that one step further.
When it was put to him that he had ‘unfinished business’ with Mayo, Rochford said: "I wouldn’t necessarily say unfinished. Each year is its own year, you move on. It’s a new squad. There are new people to it. It’s a new management team.
"Mayo are still a top team in my eyes. They are competing at the very top and also as I said there, Kevin’s wider plan was the type of vision I was attracted to work with and we were very much on the same page on where we wanted to go with it.
"Look, as a Mayo man, I want to see Mayo competing at the very, very top. If you are at the top there’s going to be pressure. It just comes with the territory.
"I’m happy to share that pressure, it comes with the territory. I hope we go long into the seasons and if that cranks up, so be it.”
Rochford added: "Look, there’s no doubt that the experiences in Croke Park and those championship games and the rawness of that, the good days and bad days, there was loads of learning in it. Kevin used a phrase there he’ll be a better manager next week, next month, and I believe that that’s what the last seven years in my inter-county experience has been about - being better from session to session, week to week and year to year.
"I’ve been on a learning journey as such in Donegal; I had to plenty to learn up there and Ulster championship is enlightening in terms of what it brings. And I’d like to think I’ll bring some of that back to the group as well.
"And I’m looking forward to pivoting the role from being not as deeply involved in the coaching when I was here last, to now being in deep. I’m really looking forward to that.
"The only business - not necessarily unfinished business - is to get to the work that’s in front of us now, which is the club games and the squad, and taking that step by step heading for the pre-season."
He continued: "Look, I as a Mayo man want to see Mayo competing at the very top. If you are at the top there’s going to be pressure, it just comes with the territory. I’m happy to share that pressure, it comes with the territory.
"I hope we go long into the seasons and if that cranks up, so be it. But as Kevin says, our focus is really the next six or eight weeks working towards that season block.
"It’s only around the corner really in terms of the National League, and the optimism in relation to what this new season is going to bring will also put a pep in your step."
While Rochford’s experiences are well-documented at this level, this is Damien Mulligan’s first steps in inter-county management.
He has enjoyed tremendous success at club level in recent years, having won the intermediate championship with Belmullet before bringing them to the senior final last year, losing narrowly to Knockmore.
Like Rochford, it didn’t take much persuasion to join McStay’s backroom team.
"The conversation I had with Kevin, the energy he brought, his enthusiasm. I like his visions. I like his thoughts."
Mulligan admits he’d be the "rookie" of the group in terms of county experience, but with his success at Belmullet and in-depth knowledge of club football in the county, it comes as no surprise that he will be the liaison to clubs in Mayo in addition to his coaching duties and he has been very busy in recent weeks with this year’s club championship underway.
"All of my experiences come from club football in Mayo. So look, first of all, I hope to gain experience from the lads and their experience with the management team. What I'm bringing, my role within the group, as selector and coach and as the liaison with the clubs, kicked off straight away with the club championship.
"I've seen a lot of players over the last four years at intermediate and senior level. I'm watching a lot of junior football as well also. We're getting to all three levels of championship games throughout the last two weekends.
"I’m looking forward to the next six to eight weeks and hopefully identify a few new players we can add to the panel, identify consistency within the games to position those players and ultimately add them to the group."