AS THE INTERVIEW winds down, the clock is turned back momentarily.
To 2002. To a remarkable eight months on an individual basis.
It’s hard to believe it’s 20 years ago now, Michael Moyles smiles.
Mayo ladies football boss Michael Moyles.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
A senior club All-Ireland title with Crossmolina Deel Rovers after a gripping one-point win over Nemo Rangers of Cork in Croke Park, a Sigerson Cup medal with IT Sligo and a hectic few months with Mayo, in which they reached the national quarter-final the previous calendar year.
“Look it was great, it’s great times to look back on,” the new Green and Red ladies football boss reflects.
“For me, success in sport can bring that, or an association with a team where you can look back in 20 years time and go, ‘Ah Jesus, wasn’t it great to be a part of it?’ You don’t realise it at the time.”
He pauses for a second, before picking up where he left off.
“And that’s what we’re trying to feed into the girls as well — three big months here and you could have something you’ll look back on for the rest of your life. I’m talking about building, but there’s no better year to win something than the first year. Do it now. And try and get it back again.
“Is that a possibility? Why not, why not? The girls are playing for Mayo, we’re involved with a Mayo team that haven’t been maybe at the top table, as in taking cups, for a while, but they’re still competing all the time.
“We feel that, with the underage structures and the good club scene that we have in Mayo, we can definitely challenge.”
Moyles in action for Crossmolina in 2002.
Moyles is opening a new chapter at the helm of the county’s ladies footballers, having succeeded Peter Leahy in the role earlier this year, after a turbulent few years of off-field matters.
He comes in with plenty of coaching experience, through primarily from the men’s game. While he was previously involved with ladies team in 2015, most of his other posts have come with men’s teams within the county and further afield.
How has that transition been on a personal level?
“It’s different,” he nods. “When I was in the men’s game, I was in as a trainer mostly. I think I stepped away from management for a while, for four or five years. I enjoy the training side of things, I enjoy getting my hands dirty and that.
“The management side definitely is busier. I have two young girls, twins, they’re five, and I have a no-phon- zone now in the evening when they come home! It’s definitely busier but I’m enjoying it.
“We have a great group of girls that are grateful and appreciative of everything that’s put on for them. A great management team that, I swear, if the team works as hard as the management team on the nights off, we’ll be very successful very soon. We don’t have a night off, we’re always touching base.
“It’s been good because you can implement your own style on it and organise around what you think the players need. I’m always looking at things as a player: If I was a player, what would I enjoy? If i was a player, do I think this or that would work?
“It’s been good, it’s been very, very busy, but the harder you work, the better you get out of it, I always feel.”
Celebrating a Mayo score as a player.
Source: Tom Honan/INPHO
That’s certainly a motto to live by, and one Moyles and the group have followed since reconvening last month, with the players “like spring lambs” as they got back on the pitch.
The enjoyment shines through with every anecdote he tells as they gear up for a hectic few weeks in Division 1. “We were starved of football for long enough and now we’re going to be immersed in it but I’ll take the immersion before the starvation any day,” he grins.
With a 35-strong league panel, Moyles is sticking with “an open-door system” throughout, as Mayo look to kick on off after a difficult few years off the pitch. They’ll rotate the captaincy through the league, and settle on a skipper afterwards.
Moyles has an impressive backroom team in place, with former county players Ger Cafferkey, Evan Regan and Austin O’Malley all involved. Terry Kennedy is also in there as skills coach, the Ballina man bringing his basketball influence to training.
O’Malley’s role, in particular, is an interesting one, enlisted as performance coach.
“He’s been brilliant, and to be fair, he’s been busy. If I was a player, even to be able to pick up the phone — and I’d pick up the phone to him as well and just go, ‘What are you thinking about this?’ It might just be, ‘Well right, that’s where you were, where you need to go and how you’re going to get there.’
“Players lose focus, you can get into that, ‘Happy just to be there’ kind-of-bracket — I was there myself when I was playing football with Mayo — and it can kind of sink in that you’re just going through the motions, but if you’ve got someone that can focus you on why you’re there and how you can improve… he’s just been brilliant.
“It’s a massive help to me. I just think he’s been excellent, and any girl that you talk to will testify the same.”
O’Malley during his playing days.
Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO
At the time of our conversation, the side had trained in MacHale Park twice in the previous two weeks, as they gear up for their league opener at the Castlebar venue.
Collaboration with the men’s county board has been really positive, and it’s something Moyles is very thankful and grateful for.
Looking at the bigger picture, these are all steps in the right direction, and accentuate the plethora of good news in ladies football circles over the past few weeks; hugely increased government funding, travel expenses for players through the league, and more TV coverage and exposure, some of the big ones.
“I’ve been with a few inter-county men’s teams, and coming in and just seeing the level of commitment and players not even getting travel expenses, it’s a bit strange,” Moyles nods. “Maybe this might help that. I think that’s needed.
“Even the level of stuff that we’ve got — and that’s the GAA, the amount of people that’s just doing it for the goodwill of Mayo and they’re not looking for anything in return. I’ve been calling in a few favours and that. It would be nice if the ladies could have the same sort of preparations and not be always looking for goodwill off people.
“I’ve been blown away, in the last three or four months, anything that I’ve asked [for] has been, ‘Yes, no problem. It’s for the girls, no problem,’ which is great, but it’s good that that parity is coming. I think it’s good for the girls as well.
“Female sport is just escalating from year to year which is great to see. The amount of preparation they put into it is the same as everybody else. I understand the gate receipts are not the same, I get that, but if it’s government support, it’s definitely welcomed.”
The plan over the next few weeks is to hit the ground running. Moyles wants people to say, “They’re going places,” and to see what they’re trying to do. He wants to cast the net out further too, and make sure he has the strongest possible squad for 2021.
“Do I think I have everything that’s out in Mayo?” he asks. “Absolutely not. No.” There have been some high profile ins and outs over the past few weeks; 2016 All-Star Fiona McHale leading the Carnacon contingent back in the set-up, while Aussie Rules ace Aileen Gilroy has opted out.
- ‘Not one to half-arse anything’ – 2017 All-Star and Aussie Rules ace opts out of Mayo set-up
The first glimpse we’ll get of the rejuvenated team is against Galway this evening in Division 1B, the rivals and neighbours — both under new management, with Gerry Fahy in charge of the Tribe — crossing swords once again.
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Galway are “a massive team,” Moyles stresses. “They have a style of play that we’ve really struggled with. If you look over the six or seven years, we’ve won three games out of 13. A 25% turnback in a two-horse race is not enough.
“For us, it’s about turning some of those things around bit by bit, going back to basics. We’re looking for small wins. If a result comes our way doing that, brilliant. We will take it all day long but we’re looking at small little margins that we can start to change and turn this around a small bit.”
Action from the 2019 All-Ireland semi-final.
Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO
That said, there’s no harm in having a bigger-picture outlook and being future-focused too.
Starting small, what would represent a successful league campaign, so?
“Well, to unearth some talent and be able to find a way that we can play our best, that brings in all our talents and what we’re good at. We have some very good players, it’s about gelling that all together and making sure that we’re tough to beat and that people don’t like playing us.
“We’ve got Galway, a very good side. Donegal away the second game, they have the highest average scores — over 70% of their attack on scores, that’s unheard of in ladies football. It’s usually 50-55%, they’re a high-scoring threat so that will be a test on our defensive system. Then we have Westmeath away as well, so there’s no easy games.
“For us, it’s about those small wins where we bring something we worked on the training field and progress it forward. If they’re crazy enough to leave us here for another year, we’ll bring it on another bit. It’s all about the long-term here.
“As I said to the girls, if Mayo win an All-Ireland in five years and I’m gone after three, I will still be as happy as if we won it in my term. It’s about the long-term for Mayo ladies football here, it’s not about somebody’s ego or personality or who wins it, it’s just about winning it at some stage in the near future.
“The amount of background team that I brought in, people are saying, ‘Sure that’s mad!’ It’s not. It’s an inter-county set-up, there’s no difference. The girls have been really utilising the people we brought in, we have very good expert people in their fields. It’s a starting point.”
And then bigger, or more specifics going forward?
“I have this vision for Mayo football in my head and I definitely think the girls can do that. Are we able to do it? Well, after the Westmeath game [their final group game], I’ll be able to tell you a good bit more about it.
“We can play A v B games and small-sided training games, but unless we see it against big opposition like Donegal and Galway, that’s going to test us. We definitely have ideas of where we want to go with it, and again, that’s maybe a long-term plan, but we’ll know in the short-term where that plan’s going to get to in the next few weeks.”
“As I said,” he later concludes. “If it’s in five years, we win an All-Ireland and I’m sitting in the Hogan Stand watching and applauding them, I’ll be happy enough like.
“I definitely think we need to be setting plans now for the long-term rather than just going year by year, and hopefully results are going to go our way.”
– updated 10.55.