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Monday 11 December 2017

Rochford fated to be fall-guy unless he wins the damn thing

Stephen Rochford. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Stephen Rochford. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Why does Stephen Rochford attract such vitriol to a point where his critics seem to revel in his misfortune?

Because he makes illogical selections that blow up in his face? Because he makes substitutions that tick all the right GPS boxes but defy the evidence of your own eyes?

Or because he has inherited the sins of every previous Mayo manager who has failed to cross the Rubicon? We're starting to think the latter is part of his problem.

True, this column couldn't fathom the omission of David Clarke for Rob Hennelly last October. There was a tiny smidgen of sense to the move (all predicated on Clarke's tendency for 'floaty' kickouts in the face of high-press pressure) but it was totally outweighed by multiple other factors which don't need recycling now.

Likewise, we were more than a little bamboozled by the reinvention of Aidan O'Shea as full-back for a day. In fact, we're convinced O'Shea's unsuitability for ground warfare in a defensive setting contributed in large part to Kieran Donaghy's profound influence last Sunday.

But? Well, we've any number of 'buts' worth highlighting if only to balance the at-times gleeful denigration of Rochford, encapsulated by one pundit's depiction of Mayo as 'lions led by donkeys'.

Consider the following:

(1) Here is a manager who has won an All-Ireland club title playing a compelling brand of football and who, in his two years with Mayo, has kept them utterly relevant at a time when many were predicting their imminent demise as an All-Ireland contender.

(2) Mayo were 21/10 with the bookies before Sunday. They were expected to succumb to a Kerry team with supposedly far more advantages. Yet Mayo took the game to them, exposed their weak points, and played the majority of the football in by far the best game of the summer. Does management take no credit for that?

(3) Donaghy continues to haunt Mayo 11 years on from 2006 and still they don't possess a ready-made panacea.

Ger Cafferkey? Exposed in 2014 and recently out of form.

Donie Vaughan? Perhaps physically equipped - but disciplined man-marking is not his forté and he's too prone to rash fouling.

Brendan Harrison? Maybe, but even that's a gamble and who then marks Paul Geaney? Suffice to say, this was no easy call - and it remains that way.

(4) Pretend, for a minute, that Rochford is manager of Kerry, not Mayo.

Hideously

Would he have escaped with the relatively mild criticism aimed at éamonn Fitzmaurice for (a) leaving Shane Enright to labour so long on Andy Moran or (b) pushing so many bodies into the middle-third that it left his full-back line hideously exposed?

(5) Kerry's full-back limitations, compounded by a recent allergy to sweepers, have been manifest right through summer. Imagine if this were Mayo and Rochford had carried on regardless, trusting in attack to bail his team out ...

Before this starts sounding like a "Kerry are lions led by donkeys" tirade, that is not the intention. Fitzmaurice has been a very good manager in a time of difficult transition. He has won an All-Ireland against the head (in 2014) and a league title (last April, against the previously all-conquering Dubs).

But he has been there for almost five years with numerous setbacks and backfiring selections along the way.

Maybe he has avoided as much flak because he hasn't gambled as big as Rochford, who doubtless knows he'll be the fall-guy again on Saturday - unless Kerry are toppled.

And even then, unless he wins the damn thing, some critics still won't be happy.

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