Why there was nothing shocking in the Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly interview
"We're two Mayo men first and foremost, passionate about football and our county. Anything that happens which reduces the chances of Mayo winning an All-Ireland title saddens us..........We're doing it because we sincerely believe it's in the best interests of Mayo football." - Former Mayo joint manager Pat Holmes talking at the weekend with his co-manager Noel Connelly.
Some journalists and supporters have been shocked by the detail of the petty revelations in last weekend's interview from Mayo's former managers but, believe me, as someone who has been immersed in inter-county football for a long time and has spoke extensively with inter-county friends, the detail is actually pretty mundane.
I'm not sure how someone could claim this is in the best interest of Mayo football. The management pair were clearly hurt at what happened and wanted to have their say. I don't see how it serves the interests of Mayo football.
Please keep the above quote in mind while I examine some of the details in the piece.
"If a small group within the squad are allowed to dictate the way they tried to when we were there, it's not good for Mayo football. In our days playing for Mayo, we wouldn't have stood for a small group calling the shots or having all the say. They would have been told fairly quickly where to go."
That ‘small group’ has helped Mayo play at a level that almost beat the best Dublin team in history over 150 minutes this year in the All Ireland final.
It would be interesting to find out what Pat and Noel put their own inability to win an All Ireland down to. If I'm not mistaken they lost two All Ireland finals in embarrassing fashion. In 1996 they threw away a big lead against Meath twice and in 1997 they never showed up against Kerry. That’s two finals and two different ways to mess them up. Maybe they should have had a leadership group of senior players driving standards in training and in games. Most successful panels have that and they are accepted as part of a functional panel.
"As for speaking out now rather than any other time, we didn't do it during the year because we didn't want to impact in any way on Mayo's chances of winning the All-Ireland. Now that it hasn't happened, we think it's time to speak out."
I’m surprised this quote made it to print. The new Mayo management have just completed the first year of a three year contract. They came so close to winning the All-Ireland and are building for next year.
So Holmes and Connelly didn't want to impact the squad's chances of winning an All-Ireland this year, but it’s ok to impact their chances next year? Right
"They told us that tactics and match-ups were wrong, opposition analysis was poor, there was a lack of adaptability and they had no defensive plan. They also highlighted some errors for goals and also occasions when they had turned over the ball too easily. Apart from the last two points, the losses were attributed to factors outside their control."
This is just nasty. The players had an excellent relationship with James Horan and this is detail from a private meeting. I’ve been involved in several of these meetings when new management are appointed and in every one the players detailed some issues they had with the former management.
The Mayo lads did actually take responsibility themselves saying they were responsible for "errors for goals and also occasions when they had turned over the ball too easily"
This was brushed aside of course because it didn’t suit the agenda. There is NOTHING unusual about players, in a private meeting, outlining some mistakes the previous management might have made. That’s actually part of what those meetings are designed for. In fact, you don't need to be an inter-county player to understand this. Anyone who has worked in any job and discussed things with management would be aware of similar meetings and find it pretty brutal to see the details in print.
"Kerry bullied Mayo in the Gaelic Grounds that day. They went out to win whatever way they had to. A few players took exception. They seemed to have a problem with the message we were giving. It was a point we made to the squad from the start. You can't allow yourself to be bullied, like what happened that day."
I don’t think I’ve ever seen this Mayo team bullied. Since James Horan took over a real hard edge developed within the team. Players like Colm Boyle, Lee Keegan, Donal Vaughan, Aidan and Seamus O’Shea and Cillian O’Connor do the bullying, not the other way around. This incorrect analysis obviously annoyed players who prided themselves on the exact opposite.
Managers need to be very careful when meeting a relatively successful squad of experienced players - get the tone or the message wrong or come in thinking you’re the big shot and you might not recover. This type of attitude from Connelly and Holmes would have got them off to a bad start with the players.
Remember when Brian Clough called a meeting three days into his disastrous spell at Leeds Utd. According to John Giles he said "Right you fucking lot, as far as I'm concerned you can take all the medals you have won and throw them in that bin over there."
Clough was sacked after 44 days in the job.
“They say that when Dillon didn't make the starting 15 for the Galway game, his attitude changed. He challenged the team selection and questioned the logic of starting Andy Moran ahead of him.”
Nothing unusual here, of course a player who wants to make the team might point out who he feels he should be playing instead of. And of course this conversation should remain private. For the joint managers to include this while both players are in the squad next year really is shocking considering they believe they're acting in the best interests of Mayo football.
The notion that it wouldn't happen in Kerry or Dublin, peddled by other journalists in the same newspaper, is simply wrong too. Arguably the best corner back of his generation, Marc O'Se told us how he reacted to not starting under Eamon Fitzmaurice .
"When I wasn't getting my game, I had it out with Fitzmaurice," he told me in an interview with the GAA Hour. "I won't even tell you what I called him there to his face, one day, but all he could do was laugh. That's Eamon. I think he preferred that we had that relationship. If you had a problem, you'd say it to him. If there was something you found wrong you would say it to him. So I did.I felt better after it and he, probably, felt better."
Versions of this happen in nearly every inter-county squad. If they win, they've strong characters. If they lose, they're troublemakers. The truth is usually a combination of the two. Good managers also accept that being challenged on things like this is part of the job.
"Complaints were raised over the timing of a pre-match meal prior to a league game against Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn.Mass had been arranged for those who wanted to attend. Since it was Palm Sunday, Mass took longer than usual, leading to the pre-match meal being put back by 15 minutes. 'One player made a big fuss of that, as if it was hugely important. It was just an excuse to complain about something, to have a dig at the logistics operation'."
Holmes and Connolly are light on the detail regarding what time the initial meal was arranged for and how close it was to the game. Players should be consulted regarding pre-game meal times, especially. They know their bodies and they know from experience when is best for them to eat. Dictating details like that won’t work, especially at the beginning when management should figure out what suits their players). In a happy camp these things are agreed upon collectively.
If players felt they were eating too late and then the meal was delayed further then of course there will be complaints.
Actually, here’s something that might surprise people that have never played inter-county football. Players complain. When you’re dealing with 30 different individuals throughout a full year there are bound to be issues like this.
When David Moyes took over at Manchester Utd he stopped the players eating chips. When Rio Ferdinand, a multiple Premier League winner, revealed how much it annoyed the players most people laughed at how trivial it seemed. However, little silly things like this annoy players when they don’t believe in the management.
"They also revealed that they were approached by Seamus O'Shea, who asked that Rob Hennelly, rather than David Clarke, get the goalkeeping slot as he preferred Hennelly's kick-outs. He was told it was management's job to select the team and his job to play."
I’m not surprised Seamus O’Shea would communicate a preference for which kickout suits him - in fact management should ask that question. Some midfielders prefer floating kickouts, others kickouts they can run onto.
Players should be treated like adults and their opinion on tactics that directly impact on them be valued, but at no point should a player attempt to influence team selection. But again there are two sides to every story and I’m sure Seamus would have a different version of events.
Again Seamus and David are teammates next year, how could anyone claim to have the best interests of Mayo at heart and reveal this information?
"Later in the season, management also received an email from Aidan O'Shea in the week before the All-Ireland quarter-final clash with Donegal, expressing his and other players' surprise that a certain panel member was not making the match-day squad of 26."
Again if this is true then Aidan crossed the line. But considering the joint management had no problem publishing private letters and texts throughout the piece, I’d wait to find out Aidan’s version of that email.
One thing I would say about Aidan, who seems to be targeted in the piece, is that he has dedicated himself to Mayo football since James Horan took over the team. Before that he didn’t look like an athlete. He was overweight and a little lazy but has transformed himself into a physical specimen and a leader and incredible worker for the team. I don't think some people have a notion of the dedication it takes to get to his physical level.
He is playing out of position and taking a lot of criticism for his performances at full forward. Trust me it’s not easy be consistent at full forward when it’s not your natural position and you’re not a natural scorer from that position.
I once cleaned Darren Fay in Croke Park in a Leinster semi final only to go out and play poorly the next day. It wasn’t from the lack of effort. Aidan is inconsistent at full forward too and is much better suited to the middle third but he gets on with it and sacrifices his own game and his own personal ambitions for the team.
If he was the dictator he’s portrayed to be why would he stand for that under two different management teams.
History is written by the winners and narratives are forced on losers. Mayo lost an All-Ireland replay against one of the greatest teams ever to play the game by a point. If Cillian O'Connor had scored his free, then these Mayo players might have been written about as driven winners. Instead they have to be told that everything they do is wrong. There are lots of things you can do to reduce the chance of defeat, but I don't think a missed free in October 2016 can be traced back to a player complaining after Palm Sunday mass in 2015.
There was very little that was shocking in the interview. I actually believe the standard of training might not have slipped too far under Holmes and Connelly. I do believe they made mistakes, but instead of acknowledging those mistakes, they had an ‘our way or the highway’ attitude that simply doesn’t work with the modern player. I believe the management team was sacked because they tried to dictate, their man management was shocking and the players didn’t enjoy the environment they created and didn’t want to work for them for another year.
That sounds fair to me. Having read the interview, it sounds even fairer.