The convention road show pulled into Ballina after Storm Desmond had wreaked havoc across the country. Indeed, parts of Mayo suffered particularly badly, with Crossmolina worst hit. The day itself turned out beautiful and maybe in a strange way it reflected the mood of the Mayo faithful in that we had weathered a particularly bad storm but come out the other side into the sunshine.
After the traditional blessing, the outgoing Uachtaráin Jim Fleming made his opening address in which he thanked Noel and Pat, welcomed Stephen Rochford and thanked JP Lambe (this was the theme for the day). Jim posed an interesting question during his speech: has the drive for Sam become all consuming within the county? I think it’s a fair point and one that’s worthy of debate.
Next up came the Cathaoirleach’s address to the convention and if people had been expecting any scores to be settled then they would be disappointed. He gave a well delivered speech in which he touched on coaching and player development, health and well-being as well as thanking JP and the myriad of organisations and individuals who contribute to the county during the year. He did raise the issue of the coup and again reiterated that he had no idea trouble was brewing, but he did single out the GPA in particular as being useless during the whole debacle.
The financial reports threw up a few interesting nuggets of information. Firstly, the way they are presented gives the impression, to the layman at least, of grossly inflated financial health. This year, for example, the figures looked on first impression that we ran a surplus of €5 million when in fact we ran a profit of €90k. A similar layout last year inflated the profits by €150k and this was pointed out by Michael Diskin, who is an accountant.
Belmullet raised the issue of the lack of funding we received in government grants. They pointed out we received only €190k while Cork received €20million for the redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
JP Lambe told us that they had a meeting with the Department of Sport and then Minister John O’Donoghue in which they had submitted all the relevant paperwork for the grants. He then when on to say that when they subsequently inquired as to why they didn’t receive a grant they were told that they never submitted the paperwork and that the Department had no record of any meetings between them and the minister. Seán Feeney quickly interjected to say that he was at the meeting as well but that the minister had no money to give anyone.
Ardaíodh na deleages Béal an Mhuirthead freisin ar an tsaincheist an easpa tacaíochta dár dteanga dúchais sa bhord an chontae. Seo resulted in aghaidheanna bán ar fud an tábla barr.
It was pointed out that the Players Lotto fund had raised over €17k between August and October with further expansion expected.
The Cisteoir position turned into a one-horse race after Seán Feeney withdrew his name from the race. Kevin O’Toole takes over the reins and I think he’s a good man for the position. He helped steady the ship during his short tenure as Runaí, was responsible for getting a €600k write down from the MacHale Park debt and was instrumental, along with Michael Diskin, in establishing Cairde Mhaigh Eo.
There ended up being only three candidates for the position of PRO after Enda Munnelly withdrew from the race. Paul Cunnane won the election on the first count and takes over from Aiden McLoughlin who is stepping down after five years. Paul was on the PR committee along with Aiden so he should hit the ground running. An added bonus is that due to his young age and the retirement of JP, the average age of the top table will drop by about 15 years, which should greatly reduce their group life insurance payments.
The highlight of the day, for me anyway, was the address by the new senior manager Stephen Rochford. In fairness most of his speech had been already been used in some portion during his numerous media interviews during the week, but his obvious pride at being manager of his native county came through clearly while he spoke. He again mentioned being ultra competitive in every game, of ensuring that every detail is looked after and of looking forward to the evenings growing longer, signifying the coming of championship football.
Stephen exudes a quiet confidence that is infectious and as he left the room you could sense that everyone was feeling that the right man had been chosen for the job. A delegate sitting beside me said that he gave the impression of a man in complete control and that he was also a sound man, before adding he gave him a loan when he was manager of the AIB in Claremorris.
I won’t go into great detail about all the motions that were debated, because most of them are fairly mundane. A motion was put forward by Knockmore that the U21 grade be totally abolished. While it was well defeated I think the purpose of the motion was to start a debate on player burnout and it succeeded in achieving that.
The other motion worth mentioning was Ballaghaderreen’s, proposing that in future the two competing counties get first preference for tickets before they go on sale in supermarkets or online. This motion was unanimously carried and it makes perfect sense as the job of getting club membership subs off people is tough enough as it is.
This year’s comedy relief was courtesy of the delegate who managed to demand the microphone and have an opinion on EVERY motion proposed. On one occasion he seconded a proposed motion then rabidly argued AGAINST it. The mumblings and muffled expletives of his fellow delegates, the top table, press and the hotel staff every time he signalled for the microphone was genuinely encouraging and he visibly grew in confidence as the day dragged on towards its fourth hour.
Finally, the similarities between 2014 and 2015 for Mayo football are obvious: defeat after a drawn semi-final and a managerial crisis off the field attracting more attention than our actions on it. Last year in Kiltimagh you could sense the tension and electricity in the air, you sensed that people were angry after Limerick and the handling of the managerial appointments. This year the atmosphere was completely different, the cordite was replaced with confidence. I’m often accused of being overly optimistic, but I felt as we left Ballina today, that finally we might have the right people in the right positions both on and off the field.