Meticulous McStay carefully planning for victory - but not at any price
GAELIC GAMES:St Brigid’s manager says his team will stick with their skilful style as they bid for a hat-trick of Connacht titles, writes KEITH DUGGAN
“Personally, I am a slogger. It’s all I can do,” Kevin McStay says of preparing for his summer role as an RTÉ commentator and analyst on The Sunday Game. Those who remember the Ballina man’s quicksilver turns as a light and audacious attacker with the Mayo team of the 1980s wouldn’t associate him with methodical endeavour. But what he means is that he applies the meticulousness of his day-job as an Adjutant in the Irish Army to his passion for Gaelic games, patiently scavenging for facts and statistics and information that will make him feel comfortable.
The same applies to his recent return to football management. Tomorrow, he will be on the sideline with St Brigid’s for the Connacht final for what will be a claustrophobically localised provincial final.
McStay is a broadcasting veteran at this stage: he has been a voice and face on The Sunday Game since 1997. He is what can only be described as a boyish 50-year-old. He lives in Roscommon Town, close enough to hear the cries from Dr Hyde Park on All-Ireland championship days.
On this afternoon, the big stadium is achingly empty and the sky above brackish. McStay has a rare day off and his plan is to watch some video tape with Liam McHale, his brother-in-law and coach with St Brigid’s. They must be the most recognisable duo in football coaching.
McStay is nationally known for his television analysis now but has a distinguished track record as a coach – he is a former U-21 Mayo manager and won a county championship with Roscommon Gaels in 2004. And McHale’s involvement makes the bitter winter nights when they are out training that bit easier. McStay marvels at the patience the big man has for coaching the fundamentals of the game and during a period of anxiety about the direction of Gaelic football, he points to the club championship as evidence of the game’s good health.
“I have seen some wonderful games at club level. The scores that Dr Crokes are putting up or Crossmaglen . . . these are fantastic scorelines for November. The quality of Crossmaglen’s play last week was of top order. This team we are coaching will play flat-out, high-tempo football with a complete emphasis on skill. We are trying to make them a kicking team. We want them to be the cleverest little team of all time with the ball in hand. And we have been working on that day in and day out.
“If we win, it will be the third Connacht title won by concentrating on football. So how bad can that be? Our theme is: the ball, the ball, the ball. I love watching our team when they play open, good football. So that idea that football is goosed? No. I don’t have that.”
McStay is a Mayo man. Football disillusionment is easily chased away in that part of the country. Two broken legs in successive seasons ended a scintillating talent too early but he sometimes feels he walked away a little bit too easily. He admired the tenacity of McHale who seemed capable of absorbing those seasons of Mayo heartbreak without ever breaking or becoming embittered.
They grew up down the street from one another in Ballina and McHale has never lost that smooth confidence he had as a sportsman. For instance, on this afternoon, McHale was coaching a schools team in Ballaghaderreen. McStay was vaguely horrified about the idea of the big man mixing with people from Sunday’s opposition. He felt it would be like stirring a hornet’s nest.
McHale just laughed at him and asked him what he was worried about. “‘Who cares?’” is Liam’s attitude. He will just chat to people, get on with it. He has this appeal to people and thinks I’m being a ridiculous, conservative clot. Maybe I am.”
They make a delightfully odd football couple: McHale is a terrific worker but he has that it-will-be-all-right-on-the-night approach that set him apart as a prodigiously talented football and basketball player. McStay is more of a stickler and less relaxed: he happily admitted in a radio interview after St Brigid’s had defeated Salthill that when you are a manager, “you can never be far enough ahead”.