Stephen Rochford: 'You are under the microscope'
By Cian O'Connell
Championship games, daunting challenges, setbacks and subsequent recovery missions: Stephen Rochford has seen it all in two action packed years as Mayo manager.
Inevitably there is drama attached when the green and red are around, but another All Ireland Final appearance owes much to their commendable resilience and resolve.
So far in the space of 16 months Mayo have played 18 Championship matches under Rochford. In previous decades it could take the guts of a decade to reach that figure so much has been learned on a typically rollicking Mayo journey.
Rochford and his management team haven't been afraid to make tough decisions. Brave calls have been made. Some worked, others didn't go according to plan. Rochford isn't too bothered that maybe Dublin are second guessing Mayo's approach now.
"I don't know," Rochford replies. "We haven't set out with a strategy of being unconventional or being unpredictable.
"You know, we certainly don't want to be predictable or readable in many ways, but it hasn't been sort of a strategic way. "It's been just what's presented in each game. We looked to set ourselves up to take the game to the opposition, and invariably looked to win the bloody game."
Having impressed in replay wins over Roscommon and Kerry, especially, Rochford is slightly happier with Mayo's form entering this decider. "I think probably up to the last day, we had a change here or there," Rochford says.
"But we're probably at 13/14 players in each game. Look, there could well be a change again for the next day.
"We have a very competitive squad and we've been lucky, thus far, that we haven't had any injury issues to keep fellas out of that pot.
"And we've also had, bar a suspension or two, we've been really able to pick from a full hand.
"Different games are more suitable for different guys, and we would see that from time to time, to address possibly weaknesses that we have or maybe opportunities that we see have sometimes led to the decision to change something."
How Mayo delivered against Roscommon in the Quarter-Final replay was a notable triumph in the campaign. Suddenly Mayo were beginning to generate that vital ingredient: momentum.
"The big thing that changed in the Roscommon replay, compared to the first day, was our retention of the ball," Rochford states.
"We just didn’t cough it up as easily as we had done the first day. In many ways the conditions played a part in that and also, Roscommon were chomping at the bit and yet they weren’t quite at it as they were in the replay.
"So it is not just a case of saying ‘throw off the shackles’. If that was the case, we would have been coughing up goal chances left, right and centre over the last few games."
Rochford is well versed in the dangers and difficulties associated with being a manager at the highest level. It is a constant challenge, but a mission Rochford continues to embrace.
“This job, as in an inter-county manager’s job, right, you understand you are out there every week," Rochford says.
"You are under the microscope, you are in a situation whereby your performance is evaluated on a Monday morning by a result.
"I would ask you to show me any other profession, and this isn’t even a profession, where you have got journalists, pundits, analysts, evaluating your performance on a weekly basis.
"I don’t see politicians, solicitors, whatever it is, getting that kind of scrutiny. And the narrative can change from week to week, depending on a result."
That is for sure. Whether Mayo win or lose on Sunday the 70 plus minutes will be debated long and hard into the winter until the MacHale Park lights are switched on once more at the start of 2018.
Then Mayo will go again as champions or contenders, but always relevant.