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Stephen Rochford hopeful Lee Keegan will continue with Mayo

Stephen Rochford

Stephen Rochford is hopeful that Lee Keegan will continue playing for Mayo but explained that the management team are giving him space to make a decision.

Keegan is yet to decide whether he will remain as an inter-county footballer next year, having admitted earlier this year that it isn’t his “main focus” any more.

A new era beckons for Mayo, as a new management team with Kevin McStay at the head has taken over, while Rochford has returned to a senior role with his county as an assistant coach.

Losing Keegan’s services for the year ahead certainly wouldn’t be ideal for McStay and his management team, especially as Oisín Mullin is heading off to Australia, so they are very keen to see the five-time All-Star recipient carry on.

Speaking in his role as an AIB Goal Mile ambassador, Rochford revealed that Keegan would be given all the time he needs to make a decision on his future with Mayo.

Stephen Rochford on Lee Keegan.

“Things haven’t changed from what has already been said and what Lee has said himself. We’re more than happy to give Lee that space to allow the mind and body to recuperate,” Rochford explained.

“He had a bit of an injury playing through the inter-county and club championship, so we’re affording him that bit of down time. 

“We’ll look to talk with Lee closer to Christmas or early in the new year in regards to his plans for 2023. I really hope that he is part of our squad for the year ahead. As he’s shown in only the past year, he still has a lot to offer.”

Oisín Mullin’s departure came as a surprise.

While Keegan could still be playing for Mayo next year, Mullin won’t be, as he recently arrived in Australia to begin a career in Aussie Rules with the Geelong Cats.

Mullin had originally turned down the opportunity to sign on with Geelong late last year, but the young Mayo star has signed a rookie contract with the recently crowned AFL champions.

Rochford admitted that he and his fellow coaches were surprised to learn that Mullin had changed his mind about Australia, but insisted that there will be a place for youngster in Mayo’s squad if he returns home.

“Looking from afar, we probably would have all thought, in a Mayo context, that the Geelong chapter was done and dusted when Oisín signed for them and changed his mind for his own personal reasons,” Rochford admitted.

“So it was a bit of a surprise in September, October time that we were made aware that Geelong had made further advances as the year went on. His decision wasn’t kneejerk, he had spent the previous nine months considering that decision. 

“Our role really was to ensure that Oisín made a decision that he could be quite comfortable with, that he was well informed with, that he was supported with. 

“Whilst we made it very clear that we wanted Oisín to stay and that we saw him being a really important part of our plan for 2023, at the same time we wish him well with his adventures in Geelong. 

“But at the same time we remain hopeful that at some stage in the future we will see him back in Mayo. 

“Although that might sound contradictory, it has as much to do with if things don’t work out for Oisín, he knows he’s more than welcome back in Mayo.”

Tribute to Donegal great Michael Murphy.

Having stepped down as Mayo’s manager in 2018, Rochford had worked in Donegal’s backroom team under Declan Bonner for the past four years before his return to the green and red.

Rochford worked with arguably one of the greatest footballers in the history of the game in Michael Murphy during his stint with Donegal, although the Glenswilly man has called time on his inter-county career.

Murphy’s decision took plenty of people by surprise, although Rochford wasn’t caught off guard given the arduous career that the Donegal great has had.

“I think it’s a reflection on Michael as well that he saw new management coming in and them probably wanting to put their stamp on it,” Rochford said.

“Michael has captained the team and been a real fulcrum to that group over the last decade, or more really. He has put his body and head where few people would have put enemies, over that time. 

“I don’t think it’s as much Father Time calling it on him, because I think there’s people at an older age that are playing, but as regards that mileage that Michael has put his body through over the last few years, it’s not a major surprise. 

“There ain’t nobody in Donegal that would be more behind the new management and making sure that Donegal remain at the top table than Michael Murphy. I think it’s just time. 

“The intensity of being in Division 1 and the Ulster championship, no person better than Michael to know whether he could actually put his body through that. And again, it’s a sign of a guy that’s saying, ‘I need to cut ties’ more than playing a part. 

“I’d know if I was in Paddy Carr’s shoes, I probably would have been saying, ‘Ah Jaysus, Michael, we’ll get 20 minutes off ya,’ or something like that. But that isn’t what Michael Murphy does. He’s all in.”

Mayo Senior Football Assistant Manager, Stephen Rochford, is available for interview as one of this year’s GOAL Mile ambassadors, proudly supported by AIB. This year, AIB will celebrate the long-standing tradition of partaking in the GOAL Mile at Christmas, calling on the people of Ireland to re-establish this tradition with their friends and families or to create a new tradition, and encouraging everyone to Step Up Together for GOAL this Christmas. Stephen Rochford and a host of other well-known personalities have come on board this year to support this great initiative. 

To register for this year’s GOAL Mile, proudly supported by AIB, please log onto www.goalmile.org

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