Mayo manager Stephen Rochford tells Fiona O’Brien why he won’t be taking any chances against London and why the favourite tag means nothing to his team
Last year Mayo became the first team to have won five Connacht championships in a row. They are favourites to extend history and make it six this year, but Stephen Rochford is taking it one game at a time.
“It’s not our focus to go for six in a row. We concentrate on winning each championship game as they come along, and hopefully that will in the end result in winning the Connacht title,” he says.
“The green and white of London is the only thing on my radar. You can get ahead of yourself. The mood is quite positive in the county at the minute, spirits are really high after the U21 recent final win over Cork.
“We didn’t do anything spectacular early this year, but we had a solid league campaign and finished it quite strongly.”
He has studied London’s league campaign in great detail and notes that they could have been higher in the table if a few more things went their way.
“When you look at their performance against Louth in the earlier part of the league and against Antrim, the two teams that ended up finishing in the top two positions in Division Four, they only lost by two scores and one score respectively.
“On another day they could have come out on the right side of the result. I think Division Four is a real battleground there. You have a lot of solid, solid teams there. Going from one game to another, if you can build momentum, you can find yourself moving quite quickly up and down the table.
“London were close against Carlow too and Wicklow on the final day, they were only ever a score behind in two or three of the games. They could easily have finished in the top half if not the top two of that table.”
He also is wary of the threat a so-called underdog can bring, and shock results are what he is fighting to prevent.
“The result between Roscommon and New York has made everyone stand up and pay attention. In 2011 London made Mayo fight all the way, and deep into extra time, and Mayo had to put up a fight to shrug off a very spirited London team.
“That London team subsequently came back a couple of years later to reach a Connacht final. On any given day if you don’t have your mind right then there is no forgiveness in relation to what division you are in in the league, it’s a different ball game once the championship comes around.
“Once you are caught in the white heat of a championship battle, if your mind isn’t right for the game and you don’t have the right attitude any team will draw you in to a fight like that.
“In some ways you would have been surprised at that result, there is sometimes an expectancy there.
“But London is decked out with people with inter-county experience from all over the country that are now residing there. There are plenty of good quality footballers there and we won’t be taking lightly in any shape or form.
“We have a number of lads who were there in 2011, and they’ve been talking to the group about that and how lucky they were to come out of Ruislip five years ago with a win.
“We are well guarded in regards to what can happen in relation to that.
“Our only focus is around going to Ruislip, putting in a good performance and driving out of it with a result.”
Rochford doesn’t get drawn into the debate of the logistics of coming to London for a championship game, stating that it is only once every five eyars and you are given ‘good notice’.
“I think its well anticipated that there will be a good number travelling across, with many brothers and sisters and friends and family of the players based in London and across the UK, there are big numbers expected at it.
“I know myself that a lot of people are travelling over from my own locality so hopefully we’ll give them something to be happy about.
“I haven’t been at a London v Mayo game at Ruislip, I have been there for club games. I think the nature of it is it is the big game of the year there, along with the county finals.
“The travelling crowd, especially as it is only once every five years, will make it have a great atmosphere.”
And he is not proud of being called favourites at all.
“It’s one of those things you have to deal with. I don’t think you get a favourite’s tag put on you. It’s someone else’s opinion, someone who has no influence on the game, it’s outside their control.
“What we will try to focus on is London and what their strengths are to make sure we’ve covered off the areas we know we need to continue to address.
“I am confident that if we put in the performance that we are capable of that we can come out the right side of a good result.
“Mayo in their history have gone through decades where they haven’t won any Connacht title. At this moment in time, I think we are quite fortunate to have had a good bit of success.
“But that only takes one game to bring that to an end and we are quite conscious of that. At the same time we are very focussed on each game as it comes.”