"You can't go into your shell because they'll absolutely annihilate you" 1 week ago

"You can't go into your shell because they'll absolutely annihilate you"

Coaching seems to suit Stephen Rochford.

He enjoyed every second of his time as manager Mayo, and he doesn't rule out a second coming faraway down the line, but for now coaching is the name of the game and that suits him just fine.

He's up in the Hills of Donegal this season as Declan Bonner's right hand man and just like every Gaelic football team in the country bar one, the aim and the target is to get that little bit closer to Dublin this year.

When asked about the blueprint to beating them - Rochford's immediate response is that it's a question for a 'GAA nerd.' His subsequent answer shows that it's exactly what he is.

And through all of his studies, the coach of the Donegal senior footballers has come to the realisation that you can't beat Dublin by going into your shell.

"Kerry beat Dubin here in the National League final," he says to us at the AIB Team of the year day.

"Why did they do that? You have to respect Dublin and the quality they have... but you can't go into your shell about it because they'll absolutely annihilate you.

"The same as with a soccer team, possession is nine-tenths of the law. If you don't go and look to battle for that ball as much as the opposition, you're going to find yourself on the back foot."

You'll win nothing playing safe and Rochford, never a stranger to a risk, wonders why teams are setting up basically just to lose to Dublin.

"So what you're really looking to play is the margin of your defeat, not necessarily going to win it. In any of those championship games we played against Dublin it was always with a view to going out and winning the game."

And with an ambitious mindset, he feels that though Mayo's gung-ho style didn't ultimately pay off with a win, the day will eventually come for the chasing pack.

"But what we did was we only got as close as that, we still didn't manage to get over the line, but I do think the gap is closing on that. Will it be this year? Will it be 2020? Time will tell. I think there's a number of teams that are certainly closing the gap or have the potential to do that."

How will those teams go about doing that?

"Dublin are so comfortable in a number of different styles, playing against or playing with themselves. And all the details watching them, they have a kick-out strategy - and a lot of other teams will have as well - but theirs' is such a winning formula based on their last four years. It becomes so much more distinct. So I don't think you'll beat Dublin, and I don't think any team has got inside that six- or eight-point margin, by playing 13 guys behind the ball.

"Because again, you're giving quality footballers so much time on the ball that they'll just pick you off. They'll just isolate where the chink is. One of the hardest things in the game is to maintain your level of concentration in those defensive situations. They just go and look to pick you off. I don't think there is a blueprint to say, 'this is how you beat them.'

And he'll be aiming to challenge them, at the very least, if he gets a chance with Donegal this year.

"What you're looking at is it's a way that presents the best way to challenge them, but until somebody goes and beats them that will become the way of doing things," he added.

And it's so far, so good for the Crossmolina man in the north west of Ireland.

 "When a team with the quality and potential that Donegal have and bring, that makes that decision a lot clearer.

Then it was just looking at the logistic elements of what that were, were they feasible? Plus the position as a coach, it doesn't have the intensity of what the ask as a manager would have. When you're dealing with media, the county board, medical teams and players. (That can be tough) It's very distinct and you know very much what the expectations of your role is as the coach. In that, I was very happy to make that.

Declan presented a very attractive picture and obviously the vision for his team and the potential that he'd seen close-up. He would have known a lot of these players since minor & U21. So bringing all those bits together, probably over a three-week period, a bit of talking and sensing around the opportunity that was there, things came together and the rest is history.

Rochford and Donegal aren't overly pleased with their stuttery League form to date, but the potential return of Odhran Mac Niallais down the line, along with a number of other factors, means they have lots to build on.

"Himself and Declan would have spoken at the tail end of January around the start of the National League and it was a case that there was no expectation that Odhran was going to immediately return after the club. But my understanding is that we'll be seeing him sooner rather than later. The quality player that he is we'll look forward to having him amongst the ranks, be that for the last two National League games or else the championship preparations for Fermanagh.