Stephen Rochford will consider his future over the next month
‘There’ll be no victimisation here of anybody’ - manager defends Donal Vaughan
The Crossmolina native was appointed as Mayo boss in December 2015 for a three-year term, and for the second time in as many years on Sunday he came within a point of claiming Sam Maguire.
Last summer his team lost the final to Dublin by the minimum after a replay, and this time around the same margin was between the teams after 78 minutes.
Talking in the Citywest hotel on Monday morning, the same venue which hosted his team 12 months ago, he said he expects Mayo to regroup and come again in 2018.
“It’s not any easier,” explained the 38-year-old manager, “it’s very difficult losing finals by one point, two points. We didn’t have an ambition to come up and be a good second we were quite happy to be a poor first but it wasn’t to be.
“We know we played reasonably well. I still don’t think we played our best but I think when you’ve got two extremely competitive teams up against each other they’ll negate you on some things. It’s a long trek to get back here but I have no doubt the lads will look to regroup over the winter and see where that takes them next spring and into the summer.”
Since 2012 Mayo have played in five All-Ireland finals (one replay), and lost two semi-finals after replays. In that time they’ve had their summer ended by the eventual champions every year, and over the past two years they have played 19 championship matches.
“There can only be one winner and you know getting into this that there’ll be 31 counties coming with long faces and one smiling on the third Monday in September. It’s something that we’ll look to get over during the winter.
“We were totally invested in winning that game. It wasn’t to be. Tight calls, tight margins, a post. I’ve no doubt when we sit down at the end of this week or early next week and look back, we’ll pick out a number of things that we could have done better. In that, I know that we didn’t play to our best. And in that way I think that there’s still room for improvement in the lads.”
One of the key moments in the defeat was the sending off of Donal Vaughan, who reacted to a John Small hit on Colm Boyle. Small picked up his second yellow, but Mayo were denied any numerical advantage as Vaughan received a straight red.
“Just out of the mayhem that is out here, I haven’t got to speak to him yet. I definitely will in the next couple of hours. I haven’t seen the incident yet but I thought from pitchside that it possibly looked worse than it was. I thought it was just a case of him running in to remonstrate.
“With Colm on the ground he sort of had to jump over him and maybe that made it look worse. It’s one of these things, he’s been super for us all year and he was having a fine game yesterday. There’ll be no victimisation here of anybody.
“All 35 that’s in that squad worked each other to the bone to get us into that position to be able to be competitive and go to that 78th minute.
“Moments within these games don’t define these guys. If they did, they’d have been finished four or five years ago. Mentally they are a very strong group, they are a very tight group and we know again that there’s more percentage points to improve on and I’ve no doubt the talent is there.”
Despite the Mayo bench failing to provide any major impact, Rochford believes the age demographic of those who came on is very promising.
“We certainly had legs and youth coming off the bench – all those guys coming on for us are hugely athletic, some of our top fitness guys.
“I think five of the six guys we brought on were under the age of 25, three of them at 22. While Dublin were bringing on All-Ireland winners and experience, we were certainly bringing on All-Ireland winners at minor and under-21 with youth and that’s encouraging as well for the years ahead.”
Pre- and post-match Stephen Cluxton’s kickout was a major talking point. Mayo won six of his 14 in the first half but none of his 11 in the second half. What did Dublin change?
“They way the game goes it naturally opens up that little bit more. I think they got huge success off the short kick-out in the second-half. Their movement, and then you had a situation where it was five v five at the back after the sending off.
“So we didn’t change anything, and I think they were just that bit more conscious of getting that ball short and getting it moving quickly. So look, they adapted well to us winning that ball in the middle of the field in the first half. But at the same time we worked some good short kickouts ourselves, and I think that’s just part of what happens when the game gets wrung out around that 45-50 minute period.
“Dublin are just very good, very economical on the ball, even when you think you have them wrapped up they’re able to manoeuvre a chance. So look, the winner always writes the script so fair dues to Dublin.”
So will he be back next year to stop the capital’s push for four in a row?
“I have to do a bit of thinking now during the month of October and see how it is. I’ve gone into a new job with work, two young kids, so there’s a good bit to consider now at this stage. But we’ll do that during October and talk to the county board.”