Mayo manager Kevin McStay during a Mayo GAA press conference at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park, Castlebar. Photo: Eóin Noonan / Sportsfile

“Half a madness, half a disease!”

"IT'S half a madness, it's half a disease."

Kevin McStay and two members of his Mayo management team, Stephen Rochford and Damien Mulligan, are fielding questions from assembled local and national media in the depths of Hastings Insurance MacHale Park, and on the question of why he has chosen to return to inter-county management now after a few years' hiatus, the Ballina native admits that it's a difficult one to sum up.

"We think we can make a difference," he explains. "We feel we can make a difference, and that was the lure of managing Mayo for me. It wasn't to tick a box; (it was) the idea that I could bring something maybe different that might make a difference. I don't know if it will or not; we have to wait and see."

For McStay, it's a case of so far, so good – though he knows the real business won't start for a while yet.

"I'm thrilled to get the appointment. It's a huge honour for myself and my family. It's a very big job, and last few weeks have accentuated that for me going around to (championship) matches.

"It's lovely going to the matches. We have great championships here in Mayo. The venues are fabulous. The competition is serious and there are plenty of good footballers around the place.

"I'm meeting people and they're very positive and very nice and very courteous to me, but I know when the ball throws in on the 29th of January, all that changes fairly quickly! You won't blame me if I continue to enjoy the honeymoon for another little while."

The enormity of the challenge ahead does sometimes hit but then he realises he's not in this job alone. The backroom team is impressive, featuring assistant manager and coach Stephen Rochford as well as selectors and coaches Damien Mulligan, Liam McHale and Donie Buckley, plus a number of other impressive personnel, such as psychologist Niamh Fitzpatrick.

Did it take much convincing to get them on board?

"I'm reckoning the excitement, the possibilities surrounding the next quest in Mayo has been enough to convince them (to join up). They know they're high calibre people. They're hugely experienced. I think we've coached 169 championship games or something like that between us. We've three inter-county managers in the group, five coaches, we've done 12 inter-county teams between us, so there's a huge amount of experience there – and I know I'm going to certainly use that as a crutch as required."

And what can Mayo supporters expect to see from a McStay-managed team?

"I think the character required to be in this gang now is going to be paramount. You have to be a very strong character – resilient, enthusiastic. You have to have energy for the work we're doing.

"How will that manifest itself on the field for the Mayo supporters? I hope they see very committed footballers who love wearing our jersey and our gorgeous colours. I think that will be a minimum for the group and management – that the effort required to play competitively at this level of the game will be a given for Mayo.

"We will be demanding that, insisting on that, and if that's not there you cannot possibly be thinking you're going to get minutes. But I've no sense that it will be otherwise."


The new manager was as surprised as anyone when James Horan decided to step away from the Mayo manager's role earlier in the summer. He hadn't been contemplating a return to inter-county management but when the Mayo vacancy came up, he felt he had to have one more go at securing the job.

"I’m 60 now. I’d had a few goes at it. And I had no sense there was going to be a vacancy, I thought James would stay on for another year or two, he was doing really good work. Okay, they had a season that they’d have wanted a bit more out of perhaps, but he was doing a lot of transition with young players, the squad was getting strong again.

"Mayo lost two games in the championship, to Galway and Kerry, so it’s not like they are out in the desert wandering around or something. There is still a very strong group there. So I didn’t see a vacancy in it and I was kind of moving on with things.

"But then once it came, it’s my county, it’s where I was born, it has a massive attraction to me as a person because I always felt I could bring something to it.

"I didn’t want the job just so I could say I was the Mayo manager; I want the job because I feel I’ve a lot to contribute and I feel I can make a difference, and the guys I have around me I really feel we can make a difference. We feel we will make a difference. That remains to be seen; I can’t tell the future. But what I do know is that we are going to dedicate a big portion of our lives to giving this a massive shot."

McStay's last job as manager was with Roscommon, and that ended in 2018. Arguably no job other than Mayo would have persuaded him to get involved again. That's the lure of one's native shore.

"Ultimately I am a fan. I am a supporter. I played for Mayo, I loved playing for Mayo. It was a very special time in my life; I never took it lightly.

"I wish I had done more, I really wish I had, but I always wanted to give something back to Mayo, and I have got that opportunity now."

He knows that his predecessor, James Horan, came 'incredibly close' to winning the Sam Maguire in recent years, as had Stephen Rochford prior to that, but McStay wouldn't be drawn into promising that the new managerial team would deliver the ultimate prize. He did promise to give the job his full commitment, however.

"I can’t promise anything other than blood, sweat and tears. I am very aware of my responsibility in this post. This is a very big job. But we are not going to give up or walk away from it.

“Football, to a certain degree, defines us as a people and we will always be curious and interested in what is happening in football. We’d hope to be one of the market leaders and that is a big part of my job – to make sure that we are. I have every sense that we are going to give this a big, big shot."

It promises to be a fun ride. "I think everybody should strap in and come for the spin. It'll be interesting!"