Wednesday 13 December 2017

Opportunity knocks again

Rochford spies room to improve and believes Mayo haven't blown it

Mayo manager Stephen Rochford leaves the field following the GAA Football All-Ireland fina between Dublin and Mayo
Mayo manager Stephen Rochford leaves the field following the GAA Football All-Ireland fina between Dublin and Mayo

The prevailing perception, emerging from the drawn All-Ireland football final, is that Dublin will definitely be better this Saturday. Read between the lines and this translates as: have Mayo blown it?

But Stephen Rochford isn't into 'perception', what people on the outside think, so long as it doesn't affect the 33 players and backroom personnel that comprise Team Mayo.

It's all white noise, outside interference. Instead, Rochford pores over the recording of September 18 and finds all kinds of facets where Mayo - not just Dublin - can be a whole lot better.

Hence his declaration: "We genuinely don't see this as some sort of lost opportunity."

Some managers go through an entire career without living the All-Ireland dream/nightmare - now Rochford, in his maiden inter-county campaign, is facing two in a fortnight.

"I'd recommend it!" he laughs when asked how he found the experience of day one. "I'd hope to have another one or two of them along the way!"

More seriously, he continues: "I wasn't lucky enough, or good enough is probably more the answer, to be there as a player. It's the day you want to get there, and to be involved with Mayo and being able to do that was certainly an aim of mine.

"But part of that, as well, is to get a win and get performances; and we haven't quite achieved that yet. So we won't be getting too sentimental about the occasion that last Sunday (week) brought."

Delve deeper

As the questions delve deeper into that palpating stalemate, it soon becomes apparent that the Mayo boss is not in the market for claiming moral victories.

He knows Mayo can be better. Moreover, he knows they must be.

"Guys genuinely didn't feel that they had delivered their A-game. And that's what's required to beat Dublin, or to beat whoever in an All-Ireland final. I suppose what it comes back to is that guys have set a high standard for themselves," Rochford explains.

"The thing that pleased me most was our level of consistency throughout the game. As in, we worked hard throughout the 70-plus minutes; we challenged well; we brought a level of intensity and discipline to the game.

"But there's a lot more that I'm not happy about. In relation to the concession of the two goals, people talk about them being freakish and that - but actually Dublin were in there with the ball, had created an opportunity.

"Maybe on a drier day there wouldn't have been the need for a Mayo man to stick the ball in the back of the net, it might have been in there from a Dublin foot.

"So they're the things we'll be focussing on and looking to cut out," he expands. "Turnovers - I wouldn't be happy with our use of possession on a number of times."

Their own creativity is another area with scope for improvement, especially around goal opportunities.

"We created one chance in Andy (Moran)'s and maybe a half-chance with Paddy Durcan's in the first half ... it is certainly something we need to work on. We need to score a goal to beat this team."

As for coughing up two goals to Dublin, you are "asking for trouble. If you'd asked me beforehand, if we conceded two goals, would you win the game, I would say it's unlikely," he reflects.

"Alluding to one of my previous points, we certainly weren't near our A-game and we look forward to aiming towards getting that game out of us."

For all that, Rochford isn't bothered by the post-match commentary that Mayo - the team that gave up two own goals, trailed by five at the break and three again late on - were the ones who had blown their chance.

"We genuinely don't see this as some sort of lost opportunity. We see it as an opportunity to get our top performance (the next day)," he maintains.

"We did a lot of things right but we did a lot of things that we wouldn't be happy with. If we had set out our five, six, seven key points in the game, I would say that in five of those seven we didn't do them to the quality that we had wanted. I would certainly see us demanding an improvement."

Last question: when a pundit (Joe Brolly) depicts Mayo as "celebrity losers" on the eve of the drawn final, is it more white noise?

Bogged down

"Em, do you want to use your own quote there? Control the controllables! Again, we don't really get bogged down in it," he demurs.

"My ask has always been about it not being personal. We're all big boys and we understand that we're open for analysis, and analysis can sometimes be critical as well as it can be supportive, or players being highly acclaimed for some performance, here and there.

"You know, 'celebrity losers' … no more than a player being called a cheat during the summer, I don't think it's necessarily fair language. But again, that's a choice for that journalist or pundit to make. It certainly didn't keep me awake when I heard about it."

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