GAA Football

Stephen Rochford 'holds all the cards' for Donegal says Tony McEntee

Former Mayo boss Stephen Rochford was brought into the Donegal set-up by Declan Bonner last October. On Saturday night the Tir Chonaill men come up against Rochford's native county, with an All-Ireland semi-final spot at stake. Picture by Michael O'Donnell
Neil Loughran

FORMER Mayo boss Stephen Rochford holds “all the cards” as he bids to help Donegal topple his native county in Saturday’s huge Super 8 showdown in Castlebar, according to Tony McEntee.

The Crossmaglen man was part of Rochford’s backroom team during his three-year term in Mayo, during which time they were Dublin’s greatest challengers on the All-Ireland stage.

Rochford left the Mayo job at the end of a disappointing Championship campaign last year, but within two months had been brought on board by Donegal boss Declan Bonner.

As fate would have it, the Tir Chonaill men head for MacHale Park on Saturday night bidding to seal an All-Ireland semi-final spot at the expense of James Horan’s side.

And McEntee insists Rochford’s inside knowledge and experience of the Mayo players will be “invaluable” to Bonner as he prepares Donegal for their date with destiny.

“Stephen clearly knows that Mayo team as players, and he clearly knows their personalities. He knows who gets rattled, he knows their favourite side, he knows their weak point… he knows everything.

“That information is invaluable; that’s not information you can take off a video. He knows, for example, what way Aidan O’Shea likes to turn or run, or work from kick-outs… he knows every little detail about Mayo.

“All the cards lie with Stephen Rochford. This is the difficult part for Stephen, and I’m sure it was the difficult part for Donie Buckley with the Kerry set-up a few weeks ago – knowing that information, he has to use that information because he’s here to win.

“It worked for Kerry, I’m sure there were other factors in it too, and we’ll see will it work for Donegal too. I’m sure Donie Buckley felt sorry having to use that information against the players, and I’m sure Stephen will equally find it very difficult.”

The Mayo players are extremely familiar with how Rochford operates too, but McEntee doesn’t envisage any attempt to second-guess their former manager this weekend.

“I don’t know James Horan but he strikes me as his own man, and it strikes me that he’ll do it his way and that’s it.

“Whatever the players know about Stephen, it’s not Stephen managing this team; it’s Stephen supporting the manager. I don’t think the Mayo team carries any secrets about how he’s going to set up because he’s not actually managing this Donegal team.”

And despite having Rochford in their corner, McEntee feels Donegal’s exhilarating draw with Kerry last time out has left Mayo – who bounced back from defeat to the Kingdom with victory over Meath – “in a really positive position”.

“It’s certainly not a fait accompli for Donegal, or for Mayo, but we may well be looking at a situation next Monday where Donegal – who I do believe are a better team – are out of the Championship.

“I’d be very cautious for Donegal. While they’re very good and very strong, Mayo have a good defence still, a good midfield still and they’re still collecting scores. Kerry was a bad day for them but, aside from that, Cillian O’Connor’s now hitting his frees and playing well, Andy Moran’s getting half an hour here and there and doing well, Darren Coen has done well.

“They’re a team that you always expect to get beat at some stage, but they don’t and then they lose when you don’t expect it, like in Kildare last year.”

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