Meticulous McStay carefully planning for victory - but not at any price
Pleasing as that Salthill victory was, he felt the match contained a subtle poison that is seeping through Gaelic games. Recently, he wrote a letter to President Liam O’Neill praising him on his intentions to deal with sideline indiscipline. McStay believes ‘sledging’ in general is out of control and felt the behaviour on the Salthill sideline was unacceptable.
“All season, what has gone on the sidelines is outrageous. Everyone saw what happened in the hurling final and the edginess that created. But this was different.
“Salthill is a club I greatly admire.
“But that game . . . if you moved down to the other side of the pitch and crossed their dug-out, it is like you have come into their house. There is a level of intimidation there now that shouldn’t be allowed. I can’t understand how grown men can go out with a set agenda to destabilise the management, let alone the players, of the other side. So I fully endorse what Liam is trying to do.”
McStay believes a kind of licensed lawlessness has been allowed to bloom within the GAA. It is not just the attitude of supporters; he regularly gets it from opposition supporters – about the Sunday Game or nonsense stuff about the money he is on.
And although he is always stunned by how people feel completely liberated by the wire meshing that separates them from him, he can accept that. But he feels there should be some measure of mutual respect between the opposition dug-outs.
“I was taken aback by what happened against Salthill. At one stage there was water squirted at me from the Salthill management side as I walked by the dug-out. Whoever it was waited until I has passed and then squirted a bottle at me. I just kept walking. But . . . I can’t understand how they have the time to do this.”
McStay has developed a reputation as a scrupulously fair GAA media voice. But he has been explicitly critical in his media analysis when he witnesses out-and-out dangerous play. “I can’t abide it,” he admits.
He played the game during a particularly dark period, playing Sigerson Cup games on Neanderthal afternoons when “there may as well not have been a referee”. He was often singled out for the brutality because he was stylish and nifty and best silenced. So he often saw stars – and not in the Patrick Moore sense.
He doesn’t object to hard hitting – he rates Robbie O’Malley of Meath and James McHugh of Galway as being among the toughest and finest he encountered. But the callously late hits, the sledging, the decision – even if it is spontaneous – to do a guy simply because the opportunity presents itself – leaves him cold.
“I met some shocking lads as a player. I was concussed and clattered and just blackguarded out of it. You do have to have fellas who won’t back off – and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong with clocking a guy as you run past him or off the ball stuff or the sledging that goes on now. But if there is dirty play involved . . . that really drives me mad. It is a part of the game I can’t understand.
“I have to deal with it in any team I coach. Every team has guys who are very edgy. You are coaching guys to keep their head. I am a huge fan of Mickey Harte and a huge fan of Seán Boylan and Joe Kernan – and yet they managed teams that have people in them that were sometimes, I felt, out of control. But maybe they are not out of control. Maybe they are just in that place where they can hold the line.”
McStay comes from a county that has been categorised – not always flatteringly – as being saintly clean on the football field. In the past two years, the word on Mayo was that they had become “edgy”. The inference is that they had rid themselves of a softness of character.