McStay prepares to fly solo ahead of New Year lift-off

Kevin McStay spent a good portion of last week’s media briefing at County Board Offices looking back on what went wrong last year before setting his sights on another Connacht Final appearance and the All-Ireland Quarter-Finals in 2017.

  He was also happy to discuss the appointments of former Birmingham City and Republic of Ireland youth player, David Joyce, two-time All-Ireland winning Kerry goalkeeper, Declan O’Keeffe, and Creggs manager, Ger Dowd, to his backroom team.

  The Roscommon manager then offered a brief insight into where it all went sour between himself and former joint manager, Fergal O’Donnell, but seemed intent on mostly looking forward to what he hopes will be a successful 2017.

  The Roscommon team started their formal training on Saturday, 10th of December and a trial game followed on Sunday last. This Saturday (17th) Roscommon play Meath in a challenge game in Kiltoom at 7 pm and they will face Kildare on Monday, 2nd of January at 2 pm, also in Kiltoom, in preparation for the new season.

Looking back

2016 schedule

Looking back at 2016, Kevin returned time and time again to the schedule of games that Roscommon faced and the unavailability of Dr. Hyde Park.

  “We presented a review of everything that happened in 2016 to the County Board. There are a few things that I would like to say about the year and one is that as far as I know it was unprecedented in the history of Roscommon football the schedule we had this year. We played 22 competitive games. We won 12, drew one and lost 9. That included 6 championship games including two Connacht finals and a game in New York. We were playing almost every week from the first Sunday in January. Remember too that there were two rounds of the club championship in there as well. There was hardly a break at all and that has to be recognised. I am not whinging, but those are the facts.

  “A huge factor in 2016 was the unavailability of Hyde Park. We had no training base in 2016. The day we beat Sligo in the championship, Hyde Park was closed that evening. We had nowhere to train for the Connacht final and we were changing from one place to the next. We missed our chance to play Mayo in the FBD league, we had to give away home venue for the games against Down and Dublin and of course the Connacht final replay too. In fact, the only day we were in Hyde Park, the day against Mayo in the league, was probably the day that we shouldn’t have been there, the weather and the pitch was so bad. It was home advantage that a young team would have enjoyed and it was not there.”

Inexperience costly

McStay said the inexperience of the Roscommon team was also a factor when it came to looking back at 2016. He did, however, highlight the value of having played in high profile games.

  “Ten players played in a Connacht final for the first time in 2016. Thirteen players who played in the Connacht final were under 23. That is very positive for us going forward. Playing six championship games, playing in two Connacht finals, playing in a league semi-final and surviving in Division One are all going to stand to those players going forward. But the year was diminished by the way we went out of the championship, there is no doubt about that,” Kevin said.

Football style

There had been much comment on the style of Roscommon’s football changing mid-season and becoming more negative as the year went on. McStay accepted that criticism but said that the schedule and injuries were big contributing factors to Roscommon’s downfall.

  “Every team at the level we are at has to concentrate on getting their defensive systems right first, not the attack. This year we were trying to get a proper defensive system going from the very first day but we didn’t succeed. We tried a lot of different things and we have to get it right in 2017. But we just didn’t get a chance to get any proper system in place this year as we were playing almost every week so we had no time to plan properly. We knew we had to have a defensive plan for the championship. We freewheeled until the Mayo match but after that we realised that we were porous. When the big teams pushed up on our short kick-outs we were in trouble.

  “Let’s also look at the reality of what happened. We had seven players who played midfield in 2016 who are either half-backs or half-forwards. All our midfielders were injured or unfit. So it was very difficult for us to develop a proper system. A huge thing for us to figure out for 2017 is positions at number 3, 6, 8, 9,11 and 14 and the goalkeeper as well – and that’s top priority. But we need a proper defensive strategy when we face the big teams. We need a functioning midfield to make it work, simple as that,” he said.

Breaking up

Kevin admitted that splitting from former joint manager Fergal O’Donnell was a very painful process but that he had come to the conclusion that their working relationship just wasn’t working out.

  “We did a review on what happened in 2016 and presented it to the County Board and at one of those meetings it was my view that the partnership with Fergal just wasn’t working and I conveyed that to him. It was one of the most difficult meetings that I have ever attended because Fergal was a great friend of mine and I know his standing in Roscommon football. I spent a long time thinking about it and reviewed the year in detail and came to that conclusion and he made his statement after that,” he said.

Looking forward

New Year, New Dawn

With the post mortem into Roscommon’s league dip and championship exit done and dusted, Kevin McStay moved on. The dream management team is no more, this is the dawn of a new Roscommon revolution and McStay has now taken complete control. It’s his baby and while he realises the extent of the job facing him, he’s excited about the challenge.

  He said: “I am looking at all the positives and I just can’t wait to get going. We have had four weeks of pre-season training up to now for the players. We have 32 to 36 players involved. We only have only one player (Fergal Lennon) injured going into the new season, which is brilliant given the number of injuries we had this time last year.”

  Kevin said that he has had a brilliant response from the players since he contacted them about the 2017 season. “We had 38 players involved when we were beaten by Clare. Two lads retired, Geoffrey Claffey and Niall Carty, every other single player that we approached indicated their desire to play for Roscommon and that’s despite all the rumours and gossip and pub talk and tweets about a split among the players, which was incredibly unfair on everyone involved.

  “Some of the players in the panel have not been picked this time and some have wanted to take a break but the vast majority are back training and working hard. We have a development panel of young players numbering about nine that we will be looking at in conjunction with Adrian Dockery (U-21 manager). Those nine players will be with the U-21 side and out of that I will pick the best players out of that group later in the year for the championship. We have three internal games, the two challenge games mentioned and the three FBD League games and that’s more than enough to prepare for the National League. The panel for the National League will be 26 with four reserves,” he said.

  What about the objectives for 2017? “We will use the matches we mentioned to establish a panel for the National League and we use the National League to establish a panel for the championship. We want to be competitive in every National League game, like last year. Retaining our Division One status would be very important but not critical. Reaching the Connacht final would be an absolute. Reaching the All-Ireland quarter-final by the front or back door would also be a critical requirement of the year ahead,” he said.

  “Let’s call a spade a spade, the championship draw gives us great possibilities. If we are about our business we would be able to beat Leitrim at home. That will be a huge focus for us but if we prepare properly and diligently we should be able to win that match. There are not too many teams with the exception of Dublin and Kerry that can say that they have a great chance of a provincial final appearance and that is the case with Roscommon this year,” he said.

Backroom changes

There had been criticism of the size of the Roscommon backroom panel in 2016 and McStay said the budget for 2017 has been cut, but he paid tribute to the people who served in 2016 and said there was a lot of misinformation being put out as to what was going on.

  “The budget for the coming year has been agreed and signed off. The reduced size of the panel and the reduction in numbers in the backroom team has resulted in a reduction in the budget. In fact, the budget is greatly reduced from 2016 and that’s fine by me but I am happy that we have the resources that we need to do the job,” he said.

  McStay had previously announced Ger Dowd as his third selector and he made two more major announcements about his backroom team at the press briefing. “I am really looking forward to working with Ger. He has a huge knowledge of the game and the underage scene and he is a huge asset to us.

  “David Joyce from Castlebar Mitchels is what I would loosely call our performance coach. David is a very interesting guy. He played professional soccer for Birmingham City and he played for Ireland at numerous levels at underage level. His career was ended by serious injury. But he has major qualifications and has worked in the UK, Australia and in Ireland and he has massive experience and I am really looking forward to working with him.

  “Declan O’Keeffe is a two-time All-Ireland winner with Kerry (1997 and 2000). He is really up for the job and he is a born winner. We have three goalkeepers on the panel now and he will be reducing that to two as the championship panel takes shape. I will be leaning on both these guys (David and Declan) not only in their own jobs but in general as well so I am really looking forward to working with them all and I am more than happy with the people I have in the backroom team,” he said.

  “I just want to say that out of the 23 people that we had in the backroom team in 2016, fourteen were volunteers and the majority of them didn’t even get mileage. People made a lot about the backroom team that everyone was making a fortune and it just wasn’t true and I want to clear that up,” he said.

Feeling positive

McStay said that there are so many positives to consider for 2017. “We are going into the season almost injury-free, we know our best players having looked at them last year. Our schedule is not nearly as punishing and we have a new pitch in Dr. Hyde Park. You can’t underestimate how important it will be for us to have a place to play and train in 2017.

  “This summer when the league is over we have an 11-week break until we play in the championship. Last year we had 17 days. We can plan properly this year,” he said.

  “The two games in the league under lights in Croke Park and in MacHale Park are massive games for Roscommon GAA people to look forward to,” he said

  McStay went on to say that the medical set-up in Roscommon is probably the best in the country and the envy of other counties. “I know that we have the best medical set-up in the country. I know that it’s certainly as good as if not better than the Dublin medical set-up or anywhere else. That was one of the highlights of 2016 and that was put in place by Fergal O’Donnell and that is there for the U-21s as well,” he said. 

‘Dubs’ scrubbed

On the question of the panel and the players available, Kevin said that after all the hard work in 2016 the selectors know what players are available and unfortunately there won’t be any input from the Dublin scene.

  “We trialled about 60 players in 2016. We went to every game that was on and we have a very good idea of what players are out there now. We developed the idea of having guys with Roscommon parentage in Dublin playing for the county and we narrowed our choice down to four of five players. Some of them are really good players but the essential problem is that these guys are Dubs. They want to play for Dublin first and foremost and rightly so. But if they don’t make it they would play for Roscommon. I have finished that process now and the result is not great to be honest, because there is no commitment. We would love if it was different but those are the facts,” he said.

2017 panel

The manager updated the media with regard to players who might be in and out of the panel, particularly some high profile players.  

  “We know that Geoffrey Claffey and Niall Carty are retired. I hope that Niall stays around because he is management material in the future and if it was not for his injury he would be the Roscommon captain for years to come. A great leader and a great lad,” he said.

  “There are three players who are undecided as to what they are going to do and they are Senan Kilbride, Cathal Cregg and Neil Collins. We hope that Cathal will join us in January but he will have to make up his mind. I am chatting to Senan to see what he will do this weekend and Neil Collins is starting out with a business so we will have to see what the New Year brings for him. Hopefully they will all come back for us. 

  “Ian Kilbride will be back in May but it remains to be seen if he will be able to get back to the required standard for the championship. But if anyone can do it then Ian Kilbride can.

  “We need all the experience that we can get for the year. Remember that we have a great chance of getting to a Connacht final and that is a major consideration for any footballer.”

  McStay confirmed that Donie Shine, Sean Purcell, James McDermott and David Keenan have all left the panel.