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Friday 2 December 2016

Unrest in west as Mayo aces go nuclear

Players' vote of no confidence in Connelly and Holmes has split green-and-red jury

Joint Mayo managers Pat Holmes, left, and Noel Connelly
Joint Mayo managers Pat Holmes, left, and Noel Connelly
Diarmuid Connolly, Dublin, in action against Lee Keegan, Mayo

THEY are acclaimed as one of the top three teams in the country - and yet, in the words of ex-Mayo player Anthony Finnerty, they have now pressed the "self-destruct button".

The big question is why the Mayo senior football squad has voted no confidence in the joint management of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly, who retained Connacht with a swashbuckling flourish in their first season and subsequently brought Mayo to within touching distance of another All-Ireland final?

An even bigger question is how Mayo GAA can extricate itself from this latest mess? Finding the answer to that, at this discordant juncture, is anybody's guess.

Then you have the various sub-plots that leave you wondering if we're gatecrashing an old Hitchcock movie, not an end-of-season review of where it went wrong (again) for football's ultimate nearly-men.

CHAOTIC

A year ago, Mayo was in a state of schism over the chaotic mishandling of the county board's search to find a successor to James Horan.

There was much local fury over how the Kevin McStay/Liam McHale ticket was dealt with in that saga. What emerged, instead, was a joint management team of Holmes and Connelly, two stalwarts from the John Maughan era that went so close to All-Ireland deliverance in '96 and '97.

Mayo GAA has a new chairman since last autumn - Mike Connelly, Noel's brother, who is now tasked with resolving this mess. And, in a surreal twist, on the very night that this simmering story of player unrest went public, McStay and McHale were being recommended as part of Roscommon's new management team.

Holmes had already enjoyed one shot as Mayo manager, in the early noughties; then he resurfaced alongside Connelly to bring an All-Ireland U21 title to the county in 2006.

A majority of that U21 generation were key men in the team that Horan built. Their appointment, thus, made a certain logic.

Instead, one year later, a majority have voted no confidence in the duo - even though they retained Connacht, dismantled Donegal and then forced eventual champions Dublin to a semi-final replay.

Outsiders are asking why? Go inside Mayo and you'll get wildly contrasting opinions, depending on who you ask.

The Herald spoke to former Mayo captain Ronan McGarrity, who soldiered with the current group until his retirement in 2012, and he had sympathy for their position. "Those lads are at the peak of their careers now, and it's s**t-or-bust," McGarrity reasoned.

We also spoke to Anthony Finnerty, who lined out alongside Holmes for both Moygownagh and Mayo, and he was pretty scathing of the stance adopted. This, despite being part of the last Mayo squad that came out with a public show of 'no confidence' in their manager, Brian McDonald, back in 1992.

"It's something I regret being involved in. I don't think we solved anything. I think we created more hassle," Finnerty admitted. "We thought we were being very bright and brave at the time."

Looking at the current impasse, he maintained: "I don't think there was much wrong with this set-up this year. I was close enough to know the set-up was very professional.

"I think all this panel have been led by a few players; you get them into a room and then they become militant ... now they are handing a mess back to a county board led by Noel Connelly's brother."

Finnerty couldn't see "any logic" in their stance, adding: "Who is actually going to take them on now? At the end of the day, are the players themselves going to manage them?"

He could see no other option but for the current management to be "totally backed" by the county board. "I hope the county board back them, and I hope the players cop themselves on," he concluded.

McGarrity offered a different perspective, suggesting that a group of players who have "fallen short" by fine margins are viewing their careers through the prism of now or never.

"I'd say they're looking at their own careers and saying, well look, last year, whatever went on in the camp, preparation-wise and management's approach … maybe it wasn't to the same level that it was in the previous four years under James Horan," he surmised.

"Because everybody knew that the players there now had huge time and respect for James Horan and his approach and his beliefs on football. And I knew that, when James stepped down, the next manager would have a serious job on his hands trying to instil belief in his tactics and methods."

CRACK

McGarrity initially believed that Holmes and Connelly were the "best appointment at the time". But, one year on, he speculated: "I'd say those players are looking at it (that) we've a year or two to crack this, and if we stick with the same management - and by all accounts they've shown that they've no confidence in them - they won't achieve what they want to achieve.

"They're at the top and - maybe I'm wrong in saying this but - from here on in it's only going to go downhill. They have a window of opportunity to push on and get the right management and get the right people that they feel comfortable with and they feel can bring them to the promised land."

This one could run and run.

 

 

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