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Stephen Rochford’s return to Mayo set-up was ‘quite simple’ after seeing Kevin McStay's plan

Mayo assistant manager Stephen Rochford at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park in Castlebar, Mayo. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Donnchadh BoyleIndependent.ie

When Kevin McStay first eyed a run at the Mayo job, he scribbled down some names. And for him, there was only one place to start.

“I had some people in mind on a page,” McStay explained, “particularly this man to my left Stephen (Rochford). I teased it out through a third party and you had a sense this could happen . . . once he said yes and a few more joined the team we were all in.”

It’s four years since Rochford left Mayo after a stint that had its ups and downs and saw him come as close as anyone to guiding Mayo over the line. In the interim, the demand for his services never waned.

He spent that time with Declan Bonner in Donegal, picking up a couple of Ulster titles and adding to his football experience. But now he’s back in harness with Mayo. And he revealed the decision to return took less than a day.

“It wasn’t a long and hard (decision to return) by any means,” Rochford said. “A quick reflection just as regards the role Kevin had set out to me but I think within 24 hours we were sitting down planning ahead.

“No more than what Kevin has said, being involved with Mayo . . . it’s seven or eight years ago now. It was a big job and I was involved in it and loved every minute, even with difficult times. But I really loved it.

“The opportunity to come back and work with Kevin and seeing the plans that he had in place made that decision quite simple.”

Rochford’s time with Mayo ended under a cloud. He was in the process of putting together a backroom team for the 2019 season when he felt the winds of change blow in his direction. Sensing a push, he jumped.

The Crossmolina Deel Rovers man is returning to a different Mayo now, on and off the pitch. Of the team that started his final game in charge in the famous ‘Newbridge or Nowhere’ defeat to Kildare in the qualifiers in 2018, just six were in from the start when they went down to Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final back in June.

And he’s returning a different man and a different coach too.

“Look, there’s no doubt that the experiences in Croke Park and those championship games and the rawness of that, the good days and bad days, there was loads of learning in it. Kevin used a phrase there he’ll be a better manager next week, next month, and I believe that that’s what the last seven years in my inter-county experience has been about - being better from session to session, week to week and year to year.

“I’ve been on a learning journey as such in Donegal, I had to plenty to learn up there and Ulster Championship is enlightening in terms of what it brings. And I’d like to think I’ll bring some of that back to the group as well.

“And I’m looking forward to pivoting the role from being not as deeply involved in the coaching when I was here last, to now being in deep. I’m really looking forward to that.”

The neat and tidy story is that Rochford, and indeed other members of the backroom team, is back to oversee some sort of unfinished business. Named as assistant manager, he knows exactly what he is getting into. Mayo are still near the top of the tree but there is work to do.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say unfinished. Each year is its own year, you move on. It’s a new squad, there’s new people to it, it’s a new management team.

“Mayo are still a top team in my eyes, they are competing at the very top and also as I said there, Kevin’s wider plan was the type of vision I was attracted to work with and we were very much on the same page on where we wanted to go with it, so those were the things.

“The only business - not necessarily unfinished business - is to get to the work that’s in front of us now which is the club games and the squad and taking that step by step heading for the pre-season.”

The pressure that comes with the job will ramp up as the new season comes into view.

“Look, I as a Mayo man want to see Mayo competing at the very, very top. If you are at the top there’s going to be pressure, it just comes with the territory. I’m happy to share that pressure, it comes with the territory.

“I hope we go long into the seasons and if that cranks up, so be it. But as Kevin says, our focus is really the next six or eight weeks working towards that season block.

“It’s only around the corner really in terms of the National League, and the optimism in relation to what this new season is going to bring will also put a pep in your step.”


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