Comprehensive timeline of the Mayo Ladies football saga 11 months ago

Comprehensive timeline of the Mayo Ladies football saga

On Monday night, 12 players from the Mayo Ladies football team, led by former captain Sarah Tierney, called a press conference to outline their reasons for walking away from the intercounty panel.

The players cited player welfare, intimidation and being undermind by management among the reasons for leaving the squad while the county board responded strongly on Tuesday afternoon and offered their extensive support to Peter Leahy and his management team.

Here we provide a comprehensive timeline of the events that led to this week's stand off.

October 2017: Cora Staunton signs contract to represent Great Western Sydney Giants in AFLW.

November 2017: Peter Leahy appointed as Mayo coach taking over from Frank Browne who led Mayo to its first All-Ireland senior ladies football final appearance in over a decade.

Browne resigned in early October following his side’s 12 point defeat to Dublin in the All-Ireland final.

January 2018: Leahy praises the footballers for their talent and looks to expand his reach to ensure he does not miss any players in an interview with the Connaught Telegraph.

“Everyone knows how good the Mayo ladies are but until you stand on a training pitch with them and witness that talent and energy up close you don’t fully grasp it. These are serious athletes, driven by the desire to be the very best and it has been great working with them over the past month.

“I’m conscious that there is a massive pool of talent in the county and with that in mind, I contacted every club in Mayo and every third-level college in Ireland looking for women who might not have been in the system previously and we’ve unearthed some top players.

“This has added a great freshness to the whole thing and with the Carnacon players coming back this week after their All-Ireland club win, we’re in a very good place right now.

April 2018: Mayo win five of seven games in the National league before defeating Cork by two points in the semi-final. They are then smashed 3-15 to 1-10 in the league final by Dublin.

Leahy talks about Dublin’s off the ball tactics and how Mayo need to learn how to cope with the physicality.

April 2018: Staunton returns to Ireland after debut AFL season, accepts Peter Leahy’s invitation to return to the squad

May 2018: Mayo suffer heavy defeat to Dublin in National League final (3-15 1-10) Leahy tells GAAHour: “It affected our forward play, who has been outstanding. People started to play within themselves. I approached this as a full panel and said, ‘we have to stop pointing fingers’ the one thing you can’t do is continue to point fingers and make blame, make excuses and always look for an excuse… it’s very possible that was some of it… We tried to address, and in fairness had some open discussions about it, but there was no issues until after the Connacht final.”

Leahy is named Lidl/Irish Daily Star Manager of the Month.

June 2018: Staunton returns to training with Mayo squad ahead of Connacht final against Galway. Signs new deal with Greater Western Sydney as she returns to training. Won’t head back to Australia until November. Mayo beaten by Galway in Connacht final. Staunton is said to have defied managerial orders and taken free kick duties from Sarah Rowe.

July 5, 2018: Peter Leahy reveals a call from a club secretary informing him that hat all eight members of that club were withdrawing from the county panel on the grounds of player welfare.

July 10, 2018: Up to 10 players leave Mayo panel days before Championship opener against Cavan. Release short statement saying: “We have stepped away from the Mayo panel for player welfare issues that are personal and sensitive to the players involved. Out of respect to the girls playing at the weekend and ourselves, we will not be commenting further. We wish the Mayo team well with their game on Saturday.” 

July 10, 2018: WGPA release statement in support of Mayo players: The WGPA wishes to acknowledge the situation in Mayo Ladies Football at present. We are aware of the issues at hand and are supporting all of the players. We recognise the physical and emotional commitment required to operate at the top level of our games and respect the decision of all individual players regarding their own personal playing experience.

July 12, 2018: Mayo Executive Board release statement claiming the management team has adhered to all protocols and guidelines set out at the beginning of their tenure.

"The Executive Board of Mayo LGFA is acutely aware of the critical importance of player welfare. Player wellbeing is fundamental to all coaching and management structures.

"A comprehensive programme is in place to ensure that all Mayo players can train and perform in a safe and supportive environment and all necessary resources have been made available to enable the Mayo Senior Ladies compete with the very best in the country.

"In the light of media speculation about unspecified 'personal and sensitive' issues, the Board feels it important to state that the senior management team has adhered to all protocols and guidelines set out at the beginning of their tenure.

"The Board has made players and management aware that they have our full support going forward and we will continue to work with all parties to find an amicable resolution.

"Finally, we would call on all Mayo fans to come out and support the team in Saturday's TG4 All-Ireland Qualifier against Cavan and for the remainder of the season."

July 13, 2018: Cora Staunton refuses to comment on walkout out of respect for teammates.

July 14, 2018: Peter Leahy releases a statement after win over Cavan  in response to player exodus. 

July 17, 2018: Forward Sarah Rowe comes out in support of the management team in an interview with the Examiner.

“For all of us playing we are very very happy with the management. Very supportive, approachable, tough, tough, tough on us, of course, but that’s their job,” said Rowe.

“Their job is to coach, they always give constructive criticism to us all, and it has only made us stronger and better players. I’m fully behind management, I think they’re a brilliant set-up. Unbelievable.”

July 18, 2018: Mediation talks take place in Castlebar with an independent mediator, Mark Small. Relevant parties were split into four groups - members of the county board, management team, players who left the panel and players who were still with the panel in four separate rooms

July 26, 2018: Mayo selector, Mick Reynolds tells Independent that mediation talks between the management teams and players have failed and they will be continuing on through the championship with remaining panel.

“They had to sign a confidentiality agreement based on it, but as far as I'm told the results of mediation were inconclusive and we're moving ahead with the panel of players we have.

"I think it is a bit unfortunate what's happened the last few weeks. In the run-up of the Cavan game we got very little training in and even when we did train, mentally half your mind was somewhere else.

"I think if anything it did galvanise us. We have a panel of players that's as tight a unit that I've ever seen. In the dressing room before and after the Cavan game that was evident. We are happy with what we have."

August 13th, 2018: Leahy admits the team have gone through a lot of turmoil following their championship exit to Galway.

“It was a disappointing way to go out and conceding five goals is disappointing. The best team won and there is no question about that,” said Leahy.

“We have gone through an awful lot of turmoil with what has gone on. But we have sorted an awful lot of problems out. We have now gone through 17 players who have had their championship debut this year.”

August 22nd 2018: All-Ireland club champions Carnacon are thrown out of Mayo championship as a direct result of county panel fall out. Carnacon is the club of 8 of the 12 walkouts.

Mayo clubs vote 26-2 in favour of banishing Carnacon.

Rule 288 of the LGFA reads: "Any member of the Association found guilty of conduct calculated to bring the Association into disrepute shall be liable to expulsion or suspension by the Committee, Board or Council concerned."

August 30th 2018: Carnacon win appeal and are reinstated into Mayo championship.

Cora Staunton appears on OTB live show and claims there is a witch-hunt against her club: "I’ve probably looked at the rule book more in the last seven or eight days. Some of the rules that are in the rule book, I wonder why they’re even allowed in the rule book.

"As far as I was aware when I started playing football for Mayo, I do it because it’s my choice. And if I want to leave at any stage, I can leave. I really don’t know how we brought the game into disrepute.

"As a club, we were obviously in shock last Tuesday night when we heard and we were very disappointed."

She also feels that the dominance of Carnacon on the Mayo scene over the last two decade - they're aiming for title number 20 from the last 21 years this campaign - means they are not popular with their rivals.

"We’re a small rural club that’s probably been punching above our weight for the last two decades and maybe that’s why we’re being punished," she said.

"I don’t know the workings of county board meetings. There were 24 votes against us.

September 4th 2018: In a statement first issued to the42, the players said that no player welfare issues existed or have ever existed under the current management.

“We were surprised and disappointed to hear of these issues and if we had witnessed any welfare issues, we would not have hesitated to highlight them to the management,” the players said.

“It is fair to say that there was considerable upheaval in advance of the Cavan game. This was the biggest game of the year for us and our preparation was distracted.

“We take offence to some of the comments that have been made by certain players over the last few weeks in the media.

“We fully support our management team and as a team believe that all of their decisions and selections were made fairly after careful consideration. We had a fantastic league campaign culminating in a league final appearance in Parnell Park and while the last few months were difficult and disappointing; many new players were given an opportunity to perform at county level.

“Our manager Peter Leahy has shown integrity and honour under tremendous pressure and he has always treated us as elite athletes, has supported and stood strong for us allowing us to play football without fear or intimidation."

September 5th 2018: Mayo LGFA confirm they will appeal decision to reinstate Carnacon into championship.  Mayo clubs voted 30-3 in favour of taking appeal forward.

September 6th, 2018: Cora Staunton denies that there was an attempted coup to oust Leahy in an interview with OTB AM.

“There was never a coup wherever this came out of. The environment for us wasn’t right within the county set-up, we didn’t feel it was a safe environment to be in so we decided to leave,” Staunton told OTB AM.

“The 14 people that left the senior team in July all left for the same reason... I think that’s been lost out there. It’s nearly a witch-hunt on the club at this stage, which is very sad.

“It’s nearly like a vendetta, we’re being penalised for walking away. It’s ridiculous that you’re playing amateur sport and being punished for walking away from something.”

September 10, 2018: Leahy, is linked with the vacant position of senior men's team manager in Sligo following the resignation of Cathal Corey according to The Connaught Telegraph.

September 12, 2018: Leahy appeared on The GAA Hour and said that the free taking issue was open and shut, that there had been individual meetings held with disgruntled players, that the Carnacon players had decided to quit the panel after these meetings, that subsequent meetings had also been arranged with the pending departees, which took up an entire training session, and that in his opinion, the departure stemmed from a selection issue.

He also said that Staunton’s ‘unsafe’ accusations were also close to ‘slanderous’

September 17, 2018: 12 Mayo players call a press conference on Monday night, led by former county captain Sarah Tierney and inviting just RTE and Virgin Media, outline their issues and reason for quitting the squad.

They also release a statement signed by all 12 players.

MAYO LADIES FULL STATEMENT

'To begin we want to acknowledge what a great day Sunday was for ladies football; the crowd, standard of football and we offer congratulations to all six teams involved.

'We as a group of fourteen people, the twelve players and two members of management who stepped away from the Mayo senior ladies set up in July 2018 would like to address the issues around our actions.

'We have remained silent until now and appreciate that this left a space for speculation and rumour; we take responsibility for that. We had always hoped that our story would come out in a respectful, private setting but at this stage feel that we have no choice but to represent ourselves to ease our own conscience and to hopefully close the public discourse on this matter.

'Firstly, we want to be clear that regardless of timing or language or delivery of the message to leave the Mayo set up, all fourteen of us can categorically state that we left for the same reasons.

'These reasons were in relation to player welfare issues that we witnessed or experienced in our time with the set up. We would like to be clear to everyone that these were not due to selection issues nor to one or two players.

'Everyone involved in county panels, including us twelve players, are hugely competitive and of course want to be playing on the starting fifteen. However, to suggest that any player would encourage or expect a team mate to leave a panel because they were not on a starting fifteen, or indeed, that a player would leave because of such a request, is hugely disrespectful to us all as athletes and people.

'Secondly, our reasons for stepping away from the Mayo panel were related to player welfare issues that were personal, and were sensitive.

'Specifically, a number of players but most notably our captain Sarah Tierney has endured an extremely difficult relationship with the Mayo manager over the 2018 season.

'Ultimately our issues related to a lack of communication, being undermined, intimidated, feeling isolated and eventually helpless in the entire situation.

'The whole experience had a significant impact on our mental health. We used the terms ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unsafe’ and accept, and take responsibility for the implications of this language but for us, these are relevant terms and stepping away was the right decision.

'We will be judged for our decision but this was extremely important to us and something we had to take a stand on.

'There is now widespread acceptance that player welfare is much more than having a physio, proper strength and conditioning, good pitches. We fought long enough for these basic conditions, and thankfully over the last few years, we have not had an issue with them – and equally in 2018 we had a good set up.

'Our issues were broader and deeper and dismissing them as ‘feelings’ is extremely unhelpful and careless. We made a decision for ourselves, as amateur players, who absolutely love our sport, to step away from it. This decision was not taken lightly and our intention was never to cause upset for anyone rather to protect the well-being of each other.

'We appreciate that not every player may have experienced or witnessed these issues and also we appreciate that a number of us did not address these fully with the rest of the Mayo panel.

'Despite this, many of the remaining panel did attend a players meeting on Saturday July 7th and did agree that there were issues at play.

'Secondly, an opportunity for all of the departed players and current players to sit down and discuss the situation on Sunday July 8th was ultimately pulled by the county board and others. In addition, mediation, which was another opportunity for engagement and agreement (even to disagree) was hindered by what we believe was an unfair process.


'At this point, we are completely disillusioned and our attempts to remain dignified after such a significant decision have been undermined. When we raised our issues they were dismissed, when mediation failed we were let go and now we feel we are being portrayed as weak, hysterical, hyper sensitive people when in reality we made a choice for ourselves, and felt strong enough to do so.

'What does the reaction say to people who want to ever speak up, who ever want to raise an issue that this is how we handle it? We must be able to tell all players that their opinions, their feelings and their experiences matter.

'We must be able to listen when they have a problem with structures in place. We must not publicly shame them or indeed ban them from doing what they love before we hear what they have to say properly and before we consider player welfare in its truest sense.

'We do appreciate that all parties have been affected, especially our fellow team-mates. They have expressed this and now we have too.

'One of the saddest outcomes of the whole thing is that there has been a serious strain put on friendships. We were within our rights to walk away from something that we felt was wrong and whatever people may ultimately think, we were pushed to a stage where the right option, the healthy option, was to remove ourselves.

'Finally, we have been and will continue to be proud Mayo people. We have been privileged and honoured to represent Mayo and always will only want the best and have the highest expectations for anyone who takes to the field in a Mayo jersey.

'We hope this answers the questions which have been in the public sphere and we as a group hope that this will bring an end to a very tough time in all our lives. We do not wish to comment any further.'

September 18, 2018: By Tuesday lunch time though, the Mayo ladies board acted quickly to come out and support their manager once more and it was extensive support.

In the statement, they outlined:

- Their desire to see Peter Leahy in charge for 2019
- That the issues of the players related to management style
- Their thanks to the players who remained on the panel
- Their belief that the players' statement was unsubstantiated
- That they are seeking advice about the comments "unhealthy" and "not a safe environment"
- That the players statement was "calculated and orchestrated" to 'garner headlines'

'Mayo LGFA County Board Executive believe the time is now right to issue a statement regarding the player walkout from the Mayo Ladies Senior Football panel in July 2018. We wish firstly to state, that we are endorsing Peter Leahy and his management team, as Mayo Senior Ladies management for the upcoming season and beyond and offer them our full support.

'We wish to thank Peter, his management team, and their respective families for their patience, integrity and dignity throughout this episode since July. The County Board also wish to thank the Mayo Senior Players who remained on the panel for the three remaining Intercounty championship games this year and commend them for their performances under immense emotional pressures and in some cases, intimidation.

'Three members of the executive met with players who left the senior panel along with representatives of the Carnacon club and listened to their concerns and feelings several days after the walkout. While cognisant of the feelings expressed to us that evening, we felt strongly that their issues related to management style, decisions and selections that are normal and commonplace in any team environment. We respected the players right to leave the panel and have at all times respected their feelings and concerns by not making them public as we were asked on that occasion by those players. We feel that it is incumbent on the players to release these and still await them doing so. However, as members of the County Board Executive, as parents, and as people involved with Ladies football for many years, we felt extremely comfortable in our decision to endorse Peter Leahy and his management team less than 48 hours later at a training session in Kiltoom. We thanked the remaining 28 players who remained for their endorsement of the management team also. We thought it was important to meet with the remaining panel on this night as many of us on the Executive had been receiving calls from players and parents concerned as to what was happening. This concern was due to a statement released by the players who left, through the WGPA, where they cited their reasons for leaving as “Player welfare issues of a personal and sensitive nature”.

'We are of the opinion, that this was an orchestrated and calculated statement designed to create maximum impact, and garner maximum headlines. We were extremely disappointed having heard the player concerns that they would express them in this manner. The statement, which remains unsubstantiated, led to rumour and innuendo of the vilest nature and Peter Leahy, and indeed his family, endured a torrid few weeks where they received online, telephone and face to face comments of a despicable nature. All the while this was happening, the players who left did nothing to quell such rumour and gossip though we now appreciate that they have retrospectively taken responsibility for this in their most recent statement. After this meeting, we found that remaining players had been contacted and pressurised up to and including two days before the intercounty game with Cavan to try and convince them to leave the panel. We find this behaviour totally unacceptable and unbecoming of anyone who claims to have the interest of Mayo football at heart. We are of the opinion that the walkout was an orchestrated move designed to make the management of Peter Leahy untenable due to sheer weight of numbers leaving the panel. We feel it was a move designed to wrestle control of the senior team from the management and but for the steadfastness of Peter Leahy, the existing Mayo panel and the County Board it would have succeeded.

'The County Board, at great expense, employed the services of a professional and independent mediator who listened to and spoke with all parties involved via telephone and through a sit-down mediation process over the space of a week. All issues were discussed, and all parties were fully aware of each other’s issues on the night. In recent comments by a certain player who left the panel, it was stated that perhaps the girls who remained were not aware or didn’t see any of the “Player Welfare Issues”, but they would have been made fully aware of all concerns and feelings through the mediation process. The players have accepted that a number of them did not fully address their issues with other members of the panel and we welcome this, however, we are disappointed that they would refer to the mediation as an “Unfair Process”.

'The mediator in question is one of the most respected mediators in the country and has worked professionally in all areas of mediation be it industrial or the sporting environment. The mediation process ended unresolved. It must be stated that while the players who left have been insinuating that their issues were not investigated, we the County Board Executive feel that we could not have done anything else reasonably expected of us. The players withdrew through a phone call from the secretary of the Carnacon club to Peter Leahy, at no time was the player liaison officer or any member of the county board forewarned of any issues, or indeed of the walkout itself. We approached the players through the secretary of the Carnacon club to organise the meeting and we organised the independent mediation process.

'At the August County Board meeting which was the first meeting since the player walkout, club delegates asked the executive for a summary of the whole incident around the senior team. While having consideration to the promise we made to the players on the night we met them that their issues would remain confidential, we gave the clubs the timeline of events. The clubs were of the opinion that the Carnacon clubs’ actions in withdrawing their players from the senior panel went against the ethos of the LGFA in the manner that it was done and through the subsequent statement released. The club delegates felt that members of the Carnacon club were complicit in the whole event and had brought Mayo LGFA into disrepute by causing a very public storm through their actions and the harmful statement which followed. There was a lot of hurt and anger and the clubs felt strongly that Carnacon should be sanctioned for bringing the organisation, their clubs and players into disrepute. As a County Board Executive, we were compelled to sanction the Carnacon club after an overwhelming majority vote. While we were acutely aware that the sanction would affect players who were not part of the walkout, we feel that it was the Carnacon club who removed their young players from a county panel where they would have enjoyed bright futures.

'Furthermore, we wish to express our disappointment at further statements made in a radio interview, whereby the playing environment under the management was deemed as “unhealthy” and she “didn’t feel it was a safe environment”. These remarks have led us to release this statement and we are seeking further advice with regard to them. We must stress that at no stage in our meeting with them were these remarks used. They have further exacerbated the situation and are extremely unhelpful going forward.

'Peter Leahy felt compelled to break his silence following these outrageous comments and we feel strongly that we must do likewise. It must be further stated at this stage that management, remaining players and county board officials have all said, and continue to say the same thing, we were not and are not aware of any issues which could be deemed as welfare issues, unhealthy or unsafe environments. We sincerely hope that this situation finishes today and are glad that the players indicated there will be no further comment.

'We wish them well in their future endeavours and hope our Senior Team can look forward to playing next year without restriction or intimidation. We wish Peter and his management team all the best going into the new season and we sincerely hope that we, the county board, can get back to the business of administrating Ladies football in the county for our children all the way to our adult players. We thank the clubs for their support and patience throughout this time.'