No Bones About It

Declan Bonner

DECLAN BONNER: Silly season has started

The GAA inter-county campaign has come to an end, and it hasn’t taken long for the silly season to commence.

Mayo GAA have been in the news this week after their players tabled a vote of no confidence in their management duo of Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly.

Mayo joint-managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes

Mayo joint-managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes


We’ve had player revolts before and there doesn’t seem to be much success from them once the dust settles.

It is a huge decision and one that will split the county. The vote was believed to be 27-7 which tells us that there was a significant proportion of the panel that were not in agreement.

The Mayo football team operate in a high performance environment, and there have clearly been issues with the way things have run, since James Horan stepped down as manager.

Things may not have been perfect, and only the people in the inner circle will know what really has gone on, but I’m sure there were other ways they could have addressed the situation.

I suppose it doesn’t make it any easier that the brother of one of the managers, Noel Connelly, is the county chairman.

The talk is that Holmes and Connelly were not the first choice of the players when they were selected to manage the team last year. Apparently, they wanted Kevin McStay, but not his coach, Liam McHale. It is unusual for players to be so vocal on such matters, and I don’t think it is a good thing.

The big question now is where do Mayo go from here?

Their fortunes have changed very little over the last three seasons. If we compare their 2014 campaign with the one that has just gone, they have again eased their way to a Connacht title but come up short in the All-Ireland semi-final.

They had opportunities against Dublin this year and didn’t take them. They were four points up midway through the second half of the replay and had the Dubs on the ropes, but couldn’t kill them off.

Was that the management’s fault? Players might not be entirely happy with a set-up, but once they cross the white line, it is in their hands.

Horan did a fine job as Mayo manager, but the concession of soft goals was a recurring theme of his tenure, and that didn’t go away in 2015. There are some problems that just can’t be completely solved in the space of a few months. 

I’ve heard the argument that some of their players are pushing on and don’t want to waste away their prime years. But there are not that many medals in the Mayo dressing room for players to be making such ultimatums.
Mayo football has been a case of so close, but yet so far, and to be honest, they look like they are going further away from where they want to be.

The word is that Holmes and Connelly are going to dig their heels in and stay put, but that is going to be impossible.

I can’t see the players that were trying to oust them coming back on board with full commitment.
It’s such a delicate matter, especially with the Connelly family dynamic.  This could fester on and set Mayo football back five years.

Whatever happens, there’s going to be huge pressure on both the players and the management whoever that is, to deliver next year.

Connacht titles and All-Ireland final appearances won’t cut it anymore – they want the Sam Maguire. It’s all or nothing.

Managerial moves

Eamonn Fitzmaurice is going to stay on as Kerry manager, and he has done a good job with the Kingdom.

He won the All-Ireland against the odds last year and was hailed as a hero. Things didn’t go as well this year and he got blamed for the decisions he made in the final. However, he is an astute manager and Kerry are right to tie him down for another couple of seasons.

Derry have installed Damien Barton as their new manager, and the first thing he has done is have a cut at the players which is a strange move.

The Oak Leaf county are another one of the great underachievers and you have to go back to 1998 for their last provincial title.

They are so strong at club and colleges level and they always have a great nucleus of players coming through the ranks, and I know Brian McIver is coming on board as Director of Football to oversee everything.

Barton will be his own man and I’m sure he will be laying down the law. He will have his own ideas and he could rise them. Derry are a sleeping giant and don’t be surprised if they make progress in 2016.

Kevin McStay is the new Roscommon manager and I actually met him in a hotel last year after we beat Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final.

James Horan had just stepped down as Mayo manager and McStay was giving serious thought to going for the job, and he looked ready for an inter-county job.

He didn’t get the Mayo gig, but he could enjoy good times with their neighbours. He managed St Brigid’s to an All-Ireland Club title previously, and he lives in the county, so he knows the local scene very well.

Roscommon have a great underage structure, and they have a lot of talent. McStay will be a shrewd manager and he won’t make any bold predictions like his predecessor John Evans, and I feel Roscommon will be competitive in Connacht next year.

Big margins

Looking back at last week’s club championship action, the surprise wasn’t the winners of the semi-finals, but the margin of their victories.

You have to give great credit to St Eunan’s for their win over St Michael’s. Six minutes into the second half, they were trailing by two points, and you couldn’t have envisaged at that juncture, that they would go onto win by 10.

As they did against Glenswilly, they closed the game out really emphatically and they are in a very good place.
The best equipped team to face them in the county is probably Naomh Conaill and they go into the final on the back of a very good win over Kilcar.

Martin Regan has done a very good job in his first season with Naomh Conaill and it should be an interesting final.
I think the standard of club football has definitely risen in Donegal in recent years. Whichever side wins the county final will certainly give Ulster a good rattle.

Glenties reached the Ulster final the last time they won Donegal, while St Eunan’s were beaten by Omagh St Enda’s in the semi-final last year and they are both capable of going on a good run in the province.

The Intermediate semi-finals take place this weekend, and the neighbours formally known as St Joseph’s – Aodh Ruadh and Bundoran – will go head-to-head.

Over the last couple of decades, if people were looking at this game, they would have said it was nearly a foregone conclusion, such was the strength of Aodh Ruadh.

However, times have changed and Bundoran will go in as favourites this time around. Bundoran have been playing well, but there is some doubt about the availability of Jamie Brennan this weekend.

Aodh Ruadh had a very good win over Milford last week and their confidence will be up, but I see a Bundoran win in that game.

Gaeil Fhanada and Naomh Colmcille is a novel pairing in the other semi-final and Fanad will start as favourites.
They have a good record in this competition and you’d have to fancy them to overcome Francie Martin’s team. Newtown have had an average season, but they might rise to the occasion.

If they are to have any chance they are going to have to stop big Michael Sweeney. He bagged a hat-trick against Glenfin last week and has been scoring goals for fun this year. Naomh Colmcille will have their hands full trying to curtail him.

The relegation play-off between Killybegs and Cloughaneely takes place in the Banks on Saturday evening. It is only two years since Killybegs played in the county final, and now they are in danger of dropping out of senior football.

I know Cloughaneely have beaten the fishermen twice in the league this year, but it is 35 years since Killybegs played in the Intermediate Championship and the current crop of players won’t want to be remembered as the team that took them down.