By Anthony Hennigan
One of the most fascinating contests to become the next Mayo senior football manager has unfolded with four confirmed nominations, each with some high-profile management teams in tow.
Raymond Dempsey, Kevin McStay, Michael Solan and Declan Shaw have each officially expressed their interest in the position, with three of the candidates having already unveiled to the public an array of managerial and coaching expertise in their proposed backroom teams — from both inside and outside the county.
The exception is Dempsey. If it’s been a tactical decision on his part to avoid the media circus that surrounded the announcement one after the other of the other three proposed management teams over the course of the weekend, then it’s certainly an interesting one — not least because if the rumours about who Dempsey has added to his backroom ticket are true, it’s the one proposed management team that could generate the greatest debate among Mayo supporters.
Thehas been informed that two former All-Ireland SFC winners from outside Mayo, both with multiple All-Stars to their name and both with particularly high media profiles, could both form part of Raymond Dempsey’s backroom team together with a recently retired former All-Star Mayo footballer.
The current Knockmore manager is also believed to include in his plans at least two members of his coaching team that has helped steer his club side to the past two Mayo SFC titles.
McStay and Solan both made known their respective management teams via the national media around the time of last Friday’s deadline for receipt of nominations, while Declan Shaw, the nominee of Castlebar Mitchels GAA Club, followed suit on Sunday.
But Dempsey’s approach is seen by some as a very deliberate attempt to convince Mayo GAA officials that his sole focus remains on football first and only, and that he is the right man at the right time for them to entrust with the job of building upon the work of former manager James Horan.
Dempsey’s last venture into inter-county management was over 10 years ago when he guided Mayo to back-to-back All-Ireland minor finals before taking charge of the U21s for three years.
McStay’s experience is more recent and has seen him manage successfully at senior level with Roscommon. The big surprise of the Ballina native’s bid is that he has included a very recent Mayo manager in his backroom team.
After five years as Donegal coach, Stephen Rochford was only last week linked to the backroom team of Bernard Flynn’s failed bid to become the new Meath football manager so his link-up with McStay (who was nominated by Ballina Stephenites) caught many by surprise when it was announced on Thursday.
Kerry native Donie Buckley, who served Rochford, James Horan and the Pat Holmes-Noel Connelly joint-management as Mayo coach, is also part of McStay’s proposed set-up, as are McStay’s brother-in-law (and fellow All-Star Mayo footballer) Liam McHale and Damien Mulligan, who McHale only this season has replaced as manager of the Belmullet senior football team that Mulligan guided to last year’s Mayo SFC final.
Aidan O’Rourke and Eamonn O’Hara are the highest-profile inclusions to Michael Solan’s management team.
Former Armagh star O’Rourke, an All-Ireland and All-Star winner, is employed as performance sports manager at Queen’s University.
He has significant experience also as coach to his home county and to the Down senior footballers among several other teams.
Eamonn O’Hara needs no introduction around these parts and is another former All-Star who was part of the Sligo management that oversaw the downfall of Mayo in this year’s Connacht U20 final. Former Mayo senior footballers Mark Ronaldson from Shrule and Alan Murphy from Ballinrobe have also accepted Solan’s call.
Murphy’s pedigree is more as a player and manager in the League of Ireland but is currently in charge of the Oughterard senior football team.columnist Mark Ronaldson is still playing club football for Oranmore-Maree in the Galway intermediate championship.
Ballaghaderreen native Solan is himself currently coach to the Leitrim senior football team but is massively familiar with the majority of the Mayo squad given his successful times in charge of the U21 and U20 sides in the four years from 2016 on.
It’s also understood he would be calling upon the strength and conditioning expertise of his brother Barry — who fulfils the same role professionally at Premier League giants Arsenal.
Declan Shaw, who enjoyed a lot of success in charge of Castlebar Mitchels, will be considered the outsider in this four-man race but has nonetheless pulled together a backroom team of significant experience, chief among them former Dublin footballer Paddy Christie.
A former full-back with the Metropolitans, Christie has had a dual role with Tipperary football in recent years, operating as coach to the senior team and managing the U20s.
Another man with significant inter-county experience included on Shaw’s ticket is Dessie Sloyan, the manager of this year’s Connacht-winning Sligo U20 team, and a forward of the highest calibre from his playing days with the Yeats County.
Three years ago he also led his native Easkey to the All-Ireland Club junior football final.
Completing Shaw’s backroom are Richie Feeney and Cormac Rowland. The former featured in 17 championship matches for Mayo during James Horan’s first term in charge of the Green and Red and won numerous county and provincial club titles in the colours of Castlebar Mitchels.
Former Mayo minor attacker Cormac Rowland has recent experience as a coach to both Mitchels and Parke-Keelogues-Crimlin after a club career in which he played for both his native Lahardane MacHales and neighbouring Knockmore.
Addressing delegates at last Wednesday night’s monthly meeting of Mayo County Board, chairman Seamus Tuohy did confirm that plans are in place to have the next Mayo manager appointed prior to the club championship which commences at the start of next month, to give the new management team adequate time to have an in-depth assessment of the club scene in the county.
Tuohy, in response to a question by Garrymore delegate John Farragher, said however that no appointment date had been set in stone.
“We are hopeful that the appointment will be made before the start of the championship campaign, on the weekend of September 2, that’s giving five weeks after the close date for the expressions of interest (July 29),” explained the chairman.
Attempts by theto confirm with Mayo County Board the committee members who will interview the candidates have been unsuccessful but it’s understood that interviews could be held as early as this week.