DURING Dublin’s run to four successive All-Irelands, Stephen Rochford came closer than anyone to clipping their wings.
Rochford’s Mayo were within a point of Dublin in the All-Ireland finals of 2016 and 2017 and only losing after a replay in the 2016 version.
Picture: Donegal coach Stephen Rochford watches Sunday’s game against Sligo in Letterkenny. Picture by Geraldine Diver.
When Rochford stepped down as Mayo’s manager in August, it was natural that he would have no shortage of suitors, but few – even Rochford himself – expected him to send up in Donegal.
Declan Bonner’s initial phone call raised Rochford’s intrigue and a couple of meetings in Sligo confirmed that his appetite had been sufficiently whetted to take on the role of head coach at the Ulster champions.
“It was an easy decision because Donegal are one of the top teams out there,” Rochford says, in his first interview since accepting the role.
“It wasn’t something I had thought about. I spoke to Declan a few times over the course of the year. When these things come in, you have thoughts of being involved with some team or the other.
“I wanted to be involved with a team and that team happened to Donegal.
“Donegal is a great football county and there is a great sense of appetite in the group to improve and learn.
“They’re the key ingredients for a formula to progress and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”
Rochford has a three-hour commute from his home in Ballinrobe, in south Mayo, to Donegal’s training base in Convoy.
Donegal, then under Jim McGuinness’s management were the last team to beat Dublin in the Championship.
Many of the players from the 2014 semi-final are still key spokes on the Donegal wheel.
Since bowing out of the Sam Maguire race following a ‘Super 8’ defeat to Tyrone, Bonner has talked of having to take Donegal ‘to the next level’.
Rochford is someone Bonner believes can help that push.
“He’s an excellent coach and he’s an exciting addition,” Bonner said of the appointment. “He knows what’s there and he’s excited, too. We hope to bring it to the next level. We need to step it up.”
The 40-year-old’s passion is coaching. Rochford took Corofin to an All-Ireland club title in 2015 before leaving to take up the Mayo job.
After losing to Kildare in Newbridge in a highly-charged qualifier this summer, Rochford looked set to remain in Mayo and even had a new backroom team, in the form of Peter Ford and Shane Conway, ready to begin.
However, Rochford stepped down citing that ‘the desired level of support for me as manager was not forthcoming from the executive committee’.
Rochford said: “I’m on record saying about my disappointment with how Mayo ended for me. That’s water under the bridge for me. My focus now is all about Donegal and helping Donegal to progress to the next level.
“After Mayo, I had committed to being involved with an inter-county team.
“The opportunity came from Declan with a coaching role.
“The call came through, we sat down and it was an easy decision because Donegal are one of the top teams out there.
“They have a lot of quality footballers and I feel I have something to offer. Declan thought likewise. The opportunity to work with these guys was the carrot that was too big to turn down.”Tags: