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Friday 20 April 2018

West's tangled managerial web

McStay defies flak to lead Rossies into battle with his own

Roscommon boss Kevin McStay (r) with his No 2 Liam McHale. Photo: Sportsfile
Roscommon boss Kevin McStay (r) with his No 2 Liam McHale. Photo: Sportsfile

In one, very linear, logical sense, we have an All-Ireland quarter-final to be won on Sunday. Except, of course, that it's not so straight-forward at all.

In the Mayo camp you have a home-grown boss, Stephen Rochford, whose managerial pedigree was established via his sensational club exploits across the border in Galway.

Then you cross another county boundary, into the land of the shock Connacht champions, and it gets far more convoluted.

Roscommon are managed by one high-profile Mayo man (Kevin McStay) and coached by another (Liam McHale). The same axis was that was so contentiously overlooked when the Mayo GAA hierarchy filled the hotseat vacated by James Horan almost three years ago.

They chose a different double-act instead in the guise of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly ... don't mention the war.

Roscommon legend Shane ‘Cake’ Curran celebrates St Brigid’s win over Crossmaglen in the 2013 All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile
Roscommon legend Shane ‘Cake’ Curran celebrates St Brigid’s win over Crossmaglen in the 2013 All-Ireland Club SFC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile

But, as Martin Carney maintained when speaking to The Herald yesterday about his erstwhile Sunday Game colleague, McStay won't view Sunday's all-Connacht showdown as an opportunity for revenge. Nor, for that matter, will McHale.

Interfere

"I don't think they will allow what happened a few years ago to interfere whatsoever in their thinking on this," says Carney.

"I think they're far too professional and far too committed to allow maybe whatever lingering sourness might have been there ... it's water under the bridge at this stage. They have had so many things to deal with themselves within the county in terms of getting acceptance."

And that, of course, cuts to the nub of this very peculiar managerial sub-plot. In virtually the same week that Holmes and Connelly were falling prey to a player heave, their former rivals to the Mayo throne were being welcomed into Roscommon.

The latter's managerial 'dream team' included local hero Fergal O'Donnell as joint-boss with McStay, an 'outsider' only in the sense that he's a Mayo native domiciled in Roscommon for decades.

But, after an initial honeymoon period, Roscommon's form imploded through the latter end of an initially soaring 2016 league and carried right through a disastrous summer.

16 February 2014; Connacht manager John Tobin, left, and Martin Carney, selector. M Donnelly Interprovincial Football Championship, Semi-Final, Connacht v Munster, Tuam Stadium, Tuam, Co. Galway. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
16 February 2014; Connacht manager John Tobin, left, and Martin Carney, selector. M Donnelly Interprovincial Football Championship, Semi-Final, Connacht v Munster, Tuam Stadium, Tuam, Co. Galway. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

There followed a messy managerial schism that ended with McStay as sole supremo and McHale as his No 2.

And, suddenly, the duo that led St Brigid's to All-Ireland club glory in 2013 were being treated by some restive Rossies as 'outsiders' all over again.

Especially as the pressure kept rising through the early months of 2017, with various players opting out, Division 1 results going horribly askew and certain 'talking heads' cutting loose on local radio.

Mauling

For former manager Gay Sheeran, an eight-point mauling by Mayo in late February was the final straw.

His rant on Shannonside Radio caused ructions. "I do not like to see Mayo men on the sideline for a Roscommon team. I fought for years against Liam McHale and Kevin McStay, playing against them. And they hated me and they hated Roscommon," the one-time county goalkeeper blasted.

On the subject of senior player defections, he added: "I'm laying the blame at Kevin McStay's door. When you look down on the sideline and you don't see a Roscommon person there. . . if there was a Roscommon person there a lot of those players wouldn't have walked."

A week later, after a battling defeat to Kerry, the manager launched a strong rebuttal of what he deemed a "nonsense" attack.

"I've trained Roscommon minors 20 years ago. I'm almost of Roscommon at this stage, my three children are from Roscommon. What do you want me to do? I can't rebirth myself, if that's the word," he told RTÉ.

Shane Curran guarded goal for St Brigid's in their All-Ireland breakthrough. He knows what McStay and McHale can bring to a Rossie dressing-room; he also surmises that on mature reflection, Sheeran "probably regrets" the tone of his radio broadside

"But having said that, Roscommon is like a lot of counties," Curran continues. "We have a lot of people who have their own agenda. Irrespective if you have a fella who is dyed-in-the-wool Roscommon or Mayo, Kerry, Cork or Kildare, it wouldn't matter. And there's always the keyboard warrior culture that has blown up over the last ten years. That's in Roscommon the same as everywhere else."

Even as Roscommon hurtled towards inevitable relegation, McStay consistently maintained that he was preparing his team with a view to championship.

Curran reckons "the knives were being sharpened" in the event that the team flopped in Pearse Stadium. Instead, as Roscommon ripped a fancied Galway to shreds, the manager was gloriously vindicated.

And now, typically, his quarter-final reward is a date with Mayo.

Devotion

Martin Carney knows what it's like to pledge devotion to a county not of your birth. He inter-county career spanned almost all of the '70s and '80s; he started with his native Donegal and finished with his adopted Mayo.

"I can understand Kevin's situation being, in inverted commas, an outsider. It does take a while to actually gain acceptance. But it's just part of an understandable process that you have to go through," the RTÉ match analyst reasons.

"You're a 'blow-in', you're an outsider ... you just have to, in a sense, win them over."

Conquering Connacht with a flourish will have gone a long way to doing just that. "He is one very, very committed person," Carney stresses. "One very organised person. And he'd be meticulous in how he plans this."

Shane Curran, meanwhile, is happy to sing the praises of a managerial double-act he likens to "Siamese twins in many ways. They mightn't look like each other and they're polar opposites in stature ... but they complement each other quite well," says the former Roscommon netminder.

"Liam is very much the coach; he's very much a player's guy, the fella that's going around with the arm around the shoulder. And Kevin too, to be fair, is quite similar. Maybe a little bit more standoffish than Liam, but also very empathetic towards players.

"His man-management skills are top-class. Obviously having played for both of them, I've huge respect and admiration for both Kevin and Liam. They've done a terrific job to get us where we've got to. And they've given renewed hope and confidence to a bunch of players that were on the ground."

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