The summer of 2017, and Roscommon’s first Connacht senior football crown in seven years, will be remembered very fondly by Rossie supporters for decades to come – but it’s easy to forget the heavy turmoil that the panel and management endured in the winter that preceded that famous afternoon in Salthill.
Kevin McStay, Roscommon manager at the time, spoke to Darragh O’Connor of The Sideline View podcast recently and in his discussion, he spoke about the process of going from joint management with Fergal O’Donnell to taking sole charge, and of replacing the selectors in the process.
“Losing Fergal, David Casey and Stephen Bohan was just disappointing, it was tough on all of us” McStay said.
“It wasn’t what you wanted to happen when you started off on the journey. It was very hard for us to figure a way forward because they were a massive part of what we had been as a group in 2016. Some of the big initiatives, lots of the heavy lifting, those lads had either made huge contributions or else led the way. That was hard, and on a personal level it was very difficult because it was my decision ultimately.
He spoke about how the county was divided after the incident, and remained so through a very tough league campaign that featured six consecutive losses, culminating in a 21-point reverse against Dublin in Croke Park. Throughout that period, the absence of a cohort of senior players was a stick that was consistently used to beat the group.
“The big disappointment was that the tidy up after 2016” he continued.
“The county was split between those that were pro- my group, or anti it. A lot of the players were finding it difficult to align themselves with one side or the other as well and that’s quite understandable. A lot of them had played under Fergal and were very loyal to him, and I understand that totally. But I told them they had to move on, you’re either on the bus or under the bus. Most people were able to keep going, some weren’t and moved on, and we took that opportunity to have a go at the panel and to get some new energy and now blood in.
“There was nothing easy going on in my management life at that time. Every week was a tough week. The honeymoon was over, the perception out there was that we were in some sort of chaos, and that was hard to beat. The county board were split as well in terms of whether they were with me or against me, and then we got off to a very poor start in the league.
“But we had a new team, a new squad, and in Division One I had no illusions about how tough it was going to be. I had let seven or eight guys go, others had stepped away of their own volition, so we had a lot of new faces. We realised very early that Division One was going to be very difficult, and we made the call that we weren’t going to sacrifice everything for the league, because the championship draw, once again, had been very kind. We had a big eye on that and we went through it, but it was difficult.
For Kevin’s full chat with Darragh, featuring discussion about life in lockdown, new rules, the Sunday Game, and lots more about his time in charge of the Roscommon footballers, check out below: