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Opinion: Stephen Rochford Should Finally Get The Respect He Deserves

Opinion: Stephen Rochford Should Finally Get The Respect He Deserves
Gavin Cooney
By Gavin Cooney
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The donkeys had a kick left in them.

It's difficult to watch Gaelic football these days without Einstein's definition of madness popping up, and in response Stephen Rochford has always taken the pragmatic approach to heartbreak; pain is merely a kind of information, shaping the next game.

Mayo's sequence of defeat since 1996 is the kind of thing that burrows into brains and festers to the point of madness, but credit to Rochford: he is not one to do the same thing repeatedly to change the outcome.

In the last year, Rochford has repeatedly been patronised. He has been lauded for having the gumption to make big calls but derided for not getting them right.

Putting Aidan O'Shea at full-back on Kieran Donaghy seemed the latest of these errant calls, and it probably didn't work in the drawn game. Donaghy either scored or assisted 2-6, with O'Shea struggling on the ground when Kerry decided against a bombardment.

Whether he would change it was hotly debated in the build up to today's game, and despite an early detour, O'Shea ultimately took up residence in front of David Clarke.

Pithy evidence to its success arrived late on: Donaghy sent off for striking O'Shea in frustration having been starved of possession and denied a score. Mayo's lead and pressure forced Kerry to kick long in the second-half, to which O'Shea responded masterfully: three balls came in, and all were won by O'Shea. He twice broke the ball out of Donaghy's hands to the loitering Brendan Harrison, while on one other occasion he did just enough to squirm possession away from the Kerry full-forward.


This head-to-head battle was won resoundingly by O'Shea, but he was helped by battles waged elsewhere. Kerry's failure to commit players forward left Donaghy bereft of possession and support, but this is in itself a victory for Rochford and a testament to his greatest strength.

The Mayo manager had the bravery to stick by his decision, whereas Kerry looked hopelessly wayward as Eamonn Fitzmaurice totally altered his. It was the Kerry manager who took on the role of the mad scientist, ransacking his defensive system in the space of six days. James O'Donoghue dropped; Tom O'Sullivan in. This led Paul Murphy to play as a sweeper, a kind of cultural vandalism in Kerry.


Ambrose O'Donovan spat on Radio Kerry: "sweepers are for chimneys".


It didn't work: it played into Mayo's greatest strength - running from depth - and it left Kerry impotent. Paul Geaney was largely heroic in fighting the dying of Kerry's light, but it was a solo quest: he was dreadfully isolated as Mayo swarmed.

O'Donoghue was rightly brought on in the second half, but within a minute of his electric, told-ya-so point from play, the contest was over. Andy Moran collected a sweet Conor Loftus pass, exchanging passes with Cillian O'Connor to score his second goal in a row.

Ultimately Fitzmaurice made all the defensive changes except the one he needed to. Enright's staying on the pitch for so long in 2014 hoisted Mayo, this time the inverse proved true. Moran took Enright for 1-1, having been scorched for 1-5 last weekend.


Enright finally trooped off after Moran's goal.

Ultimately, Fitzmaurice equivocated and ended up bowing to the pressure heaped upon him over the week. Rochford, however, refused to buckle under greater pressure.

Rochford's position is also complicated by the Mayo condition. Given their absurd history, Mayo essentially have to lose every All-Ireland again before they try to win the latest and Rochford has his own stake in this litany in the shape of Rob Hennelly.


Rochford drew up his plan for this semi-final and had the courage of his convictions to stick by it, and did so under pressure greater than any other manager would face in that situation.

Rob Hennelly to start the final?

See Also: The GAA World Reacts To Eamonn Fitzmaurice's Tactical Defeat To Mayo





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