Stephen Rochford: ‘You need that element of being able to have the craic’
BY SHANE STAPLETON
Stephen Rochford and his Mayo players don’t spend every minute of every day toiling against history and a famine stretching back to 1951.There’s more to life than simply agonising over the county’s nine All-Ireland final defeats since then, and of how close they have come to the holy grail. Mayo enjoy their football, and they know how to enjoy each other’s company. It’s not just a case of training, pushing to professional standards, and living hermetic lifestyles for 365 days of the year.
“Yeah, there are a couple of guys there who aren't shy about laying it on at times,” says Rochford, of having some jokers on the panel. “That's the thing about a group when they bond together, they know their dos and don'ts, and who you they can lay thicker things onto.
“Maybe depending on what the content is, some fellas are more vocal than others, but you'd see some good stuff. Barry Moran is a guy that is really good, and I remember earlier in the year when Andy Moran had a baby, and somebody put it up on the group that they had a baby boy, and asked ‘did anybody know the name?’. ’Straight away, Barry was in saying, ‘like all good Morans’, it's Barry’. There’s that quick wit, and you need to have that element of being able to have the craic.”
Rochford explains that while the players know when to have fun, there is the serious side too. Without doubt, there is no way this team could’ve pushed so close to All-Ireland glory in recent times if they weren’t professional in their approach.
“They'd all be very serious even with video analysis sessions, they demand a lot out of each other. They get out on the pitch then and there's times when you don't always see them high-fiving or hugging, and there's plenty that they ask of each other as well.”
Mayo travel to face Limerick in this weekend’s qualifiers, looking to get their season back on track after a narrow defeat to Galway. The Tribesmen have now beaten them in Connacht for three years running, but each time Mayo have had longer summers.
The green over red have an interesting history with the Gaelic Grounds too, having gone to extra time with Cork here in 2017, and of course there was that famous 2014 All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to eventual champions Kerry. That game four years ago will always be remembered for thrilling scores, hotly-debated decisions, Cillian O’Connor and Aidan O’Shea clashing heads.
“Funnily enough, I wasn't actually at that game because I was over Corofin at the time, and there was a round of league games put on, and our comrades in Galway weren't as accommodating in trying to get the fixture moved,” Rochford says with a smile.
“So I actually watched the first half, and this is funny, in a pub in Corofin. We were playing St James', which would be the club of Paul Conroy and Johnny Duane, and the boys were in the bar as well watching the game. I'm not sure if they were shouting for Mayo! So I didn't get to see the closing stages of the extra time in that game until later that night.”
It didn’t happen for Mayo in 2014, and of course the Galway game in Connacht this year was a fresh disappointment. Rochford’s cause was not helped by a red card to Diarmuid O’Connor, or the absence of Lee Keegan to injury, but it wasn’t until Johnny Heaney’s late goal that the Tribesmen pulled clear.
Just as was the case last year, talk of Mayo’s demise has reared its head, and though there are some detractors, there is plenty of goodwill too for this side.
“For whatever reason, and I don't know what it is, Mayo divide some opinions,” says Rochford. “Certainly with critics and analysts, and I don't know why that is, (but) sometimes there is a race to be out front to say ‘I told you so’, and people have been writing off that group since 2014.
“People will say we were beaten three years in a row by Galway, but the reality is that we've lost those games by less than a score, so in many of those games we were not far away. But the question now is: ‘how long will we be in the championship to get better?’ That's a separate challenge.
“We’re looking at Saturday and we will be very focused on that game because we understand that the fixture has the potential to trip us up if we aren’t right. Can we move on and build some momentum from there? That will be the challenge for us but we must ensure that we are still in the competition.”