Mayo players left panel due to ‘impact on mental health’

The 12 players and two coaches have released a statement outlining details of departure

Peter Leahy addresses the Mayo team in Clones for the game against Cavan. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Peter Leahy addresses the Mayo team in Clones for the game against Cavan. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

The stand-off between the Mayo women footballers and management has taken another turn after the 12 players and two coaches who left the panel in July due to “player welfare” issues released a joint statement on Wednesday morning.

The group, which includes 11-time All Star Cora Staunton, captain Sarah Tierney and vice-captain Fiona McHale, walked away from the panel at the start of the summer citing an “unsafe environment.”

That claim has since been disputed by manager Peter Leahy on the GAA Hour podcast saying that the reasons for the players leaving was nothing more than “selection issues”.

The 12 players and two coaches have now addressed that, saying the situation “had a significant impact on our mental health”, in a pre-prepared statement which was signed by the 12 players and two coaches who have left the set-up.

Tierney also said that there has been abuse on social media. “We did not step away from Mayo football because of one or two people,” she said. “Each one in this group of us witnessed or experienced an environment that we felt we could not operate or stay within. I’ve been abused on social media. I’m actually really upset and disappointed by it all. We... I just felt like I had no other option but to step away from Mayo football.”

The players also made it clear that it has “not been orchestrated and led by Cora Staunton”, as had been said in some quarters.

Hugely disrespectful

The statement read: “We had always hoped that our story would come out in a respectful, private setting but at this stage feel that we have no choice but to represent ourselves to ease our own conscience and to hopefully close the public discourse on this matter.

“We would like to be clear to everyone that these were not due to selection issues nor to one or two players. Everyone involved in county panels, including us 12 players, are hugely competitive and of course want to be playing on the starting 15. However, to suggest that any player would encourage or expect a team mate to leave a panel because they were not on a starting 15, or indeed, that a player would leave because of such a request, is hugely disrespectful to us all as athletes and people.”

The lengthy statement (which you can read in full below) continued: “our reasons for stepping away from the Mayo panel were related to player welfare issues that were personal, and were sensitive. Specifically, a number of players but most notably our captain Sarah Tierney has endured an extremely difficult relationship with the Mayo manager over the 2018 season.

“Ultimately our issues related to a lack of communication, being undermined, intimidated, feeling isolated and eventually helpless in the entire situation. The whole experience had a significant impact on our mental health. We used the terms ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unsafe’ and accept, and take responsibility for the implications of this language but for us, these are relevant terms and stepping away was the right decision.

“At this point, we are completely disillusioned and our attempts to remain dignified after such a significant decision have been undermined. When we raised our issues they were dismissed, when mediation failed we were let go and now we feel we are being portrayed as weak, hysterical, hyper sensitive people when in reality we made a choice for ourselves, and felt strong enough to do so. What does the reaction say to people who want to ever speak up, who ever want to raise an issue that this is how we handle it?

“We must be able to tell all players that their opinions, their feelings and their experiences matter. We must be able to listen when they have a problem with structures in place. We must not publicly shame them or indeed ban them from doing what they love before we hear what they have to say properly and before we consider player welfare in its truest sense.”

‘Lazy’

Speaking at the McWilliam Hotel in Claremorris, vice-captain Fiona McHale further backed up the statement, saying that feedback was not offered to players and that some were told they were “lazy” and “not committed”.

“This is crucial to understanding why this happened: the opportunity for some people to learn and improve was not given by the manager,” McHale said.

“The manager referred to this on his podcast (the GAA Hour) that he has a commitment to equality but we never saw evidence of this commitment. We would consider what equality is that it’s having respect for everybody and having respect for everybody at the same level.

“An example to show that this was not an environment that we were in is that some people were not given feedback. Some people directly asked for feedback off the manager and were not given it. One girl did not make the starting 15 for the Connacht final and after an individual meeting she had after the Connacht final she was given feedback then as to why she wasn’t starting and the feedback she was given is that she was lazy. Another player was given feedback that she wasn’t committed enough despite having only missed one training all year.

“There are four of us here who started the Connacht final. The majority of people here have all had significant game time so why would we leave for those reasons? Why would we leave for selection issues? It’s absolutely crazy for people to even think that or for it to even be suggested by people. So I want to clarify that that was not the reason we left.”

Departed players and coaches: Full statement

To begin we want to acknowledge what a great day Sunday was for ladies football; the crowd, standard of football and we offer congratulations to all six teams involved.

We as a group of fourteen people, the twelve players and two members of management who stepped away from the Mayo senior ladies set up in July 2018 would like to address the issues around our actions. We have remained silent until now and appreciate that this left a space for speculation and rumour; we take responsibility for that. We had always hoped that our story would come out in a respectful, private setting but at this stage feel that we have no choice but to represent ourselves to ease our own conscience and to hopefully close the public discourse on this matter.

Firstly, we want to be clear that regardless of timing or language or delivery of the message to leave the Mayo set up, all fourteen of us can categorically state that we left for the same reasons. These reasons were in relation to player welfare issues that we witnessed or experienced in our time with the set up. We would like to be clear to everyone that these were not due to selection issues nor to one or two players. Everyone involved in county panels, including us twelve players, are hugely competitive and of course want to be playing on the starting fifteen. However, to suggest that any player would encourage or expect a team mate to leave a panel because they were not on a starting fifteen, or indeed, that a player would leave because of such a request, is hugely disrespectful to us all as athletes and people.

Secondly, our reasons for stepping away from the Mayo panel were related to player welfare issues that were personal, and were sensitive. Specifically, a number of players but most notably our captain Sarah Tierney has endured an extremely difficult relationship with the Mayo manager over the 2018 season. Ultimately our issues related to a lack of communication, being undermined, intimidated, feeling isolated and eventually helpless in the entire situation. The whole experience had a significant impact on our mental health. We used the terms ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unsafe’ and accept, and take responsibility for the implications of this language but for us, these are relevant terms and stepping away was the right decision. We will be judged for our decision but this was extremely important to us and something we had to take a stand on. There is now widespread acceptance that player welfare is much more than having a physio, proper strength and conditioning, good pitches. We fought long enough for these basic conditions, and thankfully over the last few years, we have not had an issue with them - and equally in 2018 we had a good set up. Our issues were broader and deeper and dismissing them as ‘feelings’ is extremely unhelpful and careless. We made a decision for ourselves, as amateur players, who absolutely love our sport, to step away from it. This decision was not taken lightly and our intention was never to cause upset for anyone rather to protect the wellbeing of each other.

We appreciate that not every player may have experienced or witnessed these issues and also we appreciate that a number of us did not address these fully with the rest of the Mayo panel. Despite this, many of the remaining panel did attend a players meeting on Saturday July 7th and did agree that there were issues at play. Secondly, an opportunity for all of the departed players and current players to sit down and discuss the situation on Sunday July 8th was ultimately pulled by the county board and others. In addition, mediation, which was another opportunity for engagement and agreement (even to disagree) was hindered by what we believe was an unfair process.

At this point, we are completely disillusioned and our attempts to remain dignified after such a significant decision have been undermined. When we raised our issues they were dismissed, when mediation failed we were let go and now we feel we are being portrayed as weak, hysterical, hyper sensitive people when in reality we made a choice for ourselves, and felt strong enough to do so. What does the reaction say to people who want to ever speak up, who ever want to raise an issue that this is how we handle it? We must be able to tell all players that their opinions, their feelings and their experiences matter. We must be able to listen when they have a problem with structures in place. We must not publicly shame them or indeed ban them from doing what they love before we hear what they have to say properly and before we consider player welfare in its truest sense.

We do appreciate that all parties have been affected, especially our fellow team mates. They have expressed this and now we have too. One of the saddest outcomes of the whole thing is that there has been a serious strain put on friendships. We were within our rights to walk away from something that we felt was wrong and whatever people may ultimately think, we were pushed to a stage where the right option, the healthy option, was to remove ourselves. Finally, we have been and will continue to be proud Mayo people. We have been privileged and honoured to represent Mayo and always will only want the best and have the highest expectations for anyone who takes to the field in a Mayo jersey.

We hope this answers the questions which have been in the public sphere and we as a group hope that this will bring an end to a very tough time in all our lives. We do not wish to comment any further.

SIGNED 
Sarah Tierney, Fiona McHale, Denise McDonagh, Shauna Howley, Marie Corbett, Cora Staunton, Elaine Murphy, Doireann Hughes, Martha Carter, Amy Dowling, Saoirse Walsh, Sadbh Larkin, Orla Conlon, Michael McHale

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