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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 23 October, 2018
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'Lack of communication, being undermined' - Mayo's 12 departed players explain why they left the panel

They’ve released a lengthy statement saying that the walkout was not due to selection issues.

THE 14 MEMBERS of the Mayo ladies football panel who left the set-up earlier this summer have broken their silence.

mayo The departed group have spoken out. Source: Jacqui Hurley Twitter.

Initially, the group of 12 players which include 11-time All-Star Cora Staunton, captain Sarah Tierney and vice captain Fiona McHale, and two members of the management team cited “player welfare issues” as the reason for their departure. 

The remaining members of the Mayo squad then released a statement to The42 saying that “no player welfare issues exist or have ever existed under the current management.”

Staunton then said on Off The Ball: “The environment for us wasn’t right within the county set-up, we didn’t feel it was a safe environment to be in so we decided to leave.” 

Mayo manager Peter Leahy last week defended his set-up and refuted these “unsafe” and “unhealthy” claims on SportsJOE’s GAA Hour. He went on to say “some of the players weren’t happy with my selection, simple as that.”

And the departed players and selectors have this morning released a statement, signed by all, in response to Leahy’s comments, saying that the walkout was not due to selection issues.

They say that a ”lack of communication, being undermined, intimidated, feeling isolated and eventually helpless in the entire situation” were the main reasons for their departure.

“Firstly, we want to be clear that regardless of timing or language or delivery of the message to leave the Mayo set up, all 14 of us can categorically state that we left for the same reasons,” they state.

“These reasons were in relation to player welfare issues that we witnessed or experienced in our time with the set up. We would like to be clear to everyone that these were not due to selection issues nor to one or two players.

Cora Staunton 11-time All-Star Cora Staunton. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“To suggest that any player would encourage or expect a team mate to leave a panel because they were not on a starting 15, or indeed, that a player would leave because of such a request, is hugely disrespectful to us all as athletes and people.

“Secondly, our reasons for stepping away from the Mayo panel were related to player welfare issues that were personal, and were sensitive.

“Specifically, a number of players but most notably our captain Sarah Tierney has endured an extremely difficult relationship with the Mayo manager over the 2018 season.

“Ultimately our issues related to a lack of communication, being undermined, intimidated, feeling isolated and eventually helpless in the entire situation.

“The whole experience had a significant impact on our mental health. We used the terms ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unsafe’ and accept, and take responsibility for the implications of this language but for us, these are relevant terms and stepping away was the right decision.”

RTÉ’s Morning Ireland ran audio from a press conference last night in which Carnacon midfielder McHale explained the decision in more detail:

“When you don’t make the starting 15 obviously you’re very disappointed. Obviously you’re going to try and find a way to bridge that gap and get back to the starting 15. You’re mad to try and find a way or find out when you’re going to get back. 

“However, and this is crucial to understanding why this happened, the opportunity for some people to learn and improve was not given by the manager. The manager referred to this on his podcast, that he has a commitment to equality, but we never saw evidence of this commitment.

“We would consider what equality is, is that it’s having respect for everybody, having respect for everyone at the same level. 

“Just some examples to show that this was not an environment that we were in was that some people were not given feedback. Some people directly asked for feedback off the manager and they were not given it. 

Fiona McHale Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“One girl did not make the starting 15 for the Connacht final and during an individual meeting she had after the Connacht final, she was given feedback then as to why she wasn’t starting. The feedback she was given was that she was lazy. 

“Another player was told that she wasn’t committed enough despite having only missed one training all year. 

“Like, there’s four of us here who were started this year, started in the Connacht final. Majority of people here have all had significant game time. Why would we leave for those reasons? Why would we leave for selection issues? It’s absolutely crazy for people to even think that or for it to be even suggested by people. 

“I want to clarify that that was not the reason we left.”

You can read the statement in full below:

To begin we want to acknowledge what a great day Sunday was for ladies football; the crowd, standard of football and we offer congratulations to all six teams involved.

We as a group of fourteen people, the twelve players and two members of management who stepped away from the Mayo senior ladies set up in July 2018 would like to address the issues around our actions.

We have remained silent until now and appreciate that this left a space for speculation and rumour; we take responsibility for that. We had always hoped that our story would come out in a respectful, private setting but at this stage feel that we have no choice but to represent ourselves to ease our own conscience and to hopefully close the public discourse on this matter.

Firstly, we want to be clear that regardless of timing or language or delivery of the message to leave the Mayo set up, all 14 of us can categorically state that we left for the same reasons.

These reasons were in relation to player welfare issues that we witnessed or experienced in our time with the set up. We would like to be clear to everyone that these were not due to selection issues nor to one or two players.

Everyone involved in county panels, including us twelve players, are hugely competitive and of course want to be playing on the starting fifteen. However, to suggest that any player would encourage or expect a team mate to leave a panel because they were not on a starting fifteen, or indeed, that a player would leave because of such a request, is hugely disrespectful to us all as athletes and people.

Secondly, our reasons for stepping away from the Mayo panel were related to player welfare issues that were personal, and were sensitive.

Specifically, a number of players but most notably our captain Sarah Tierney has endured an extremely difficult relationship with the Mayo manager over the 2018 season.

Ultimately our issues related to a lack of communication, being undermined, intimidated, feeling isolated and eventually helpless in the entire situation.

The whole experience had a significant impact on our mental health. We used the terms ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unsafe’ and accept, and take responsibility for the implications of this language but for us, these are relevant terms and stepping away was the right decision.

We will be judged for our decision but this was extremely important to us and something we had to take a stand on.

There is now widespread acceptance that player welfare is much more than having a physio, proper strength and conditioning, good pitches. We fought long enough for these basic conditions, and thankfully over the last few years, we have not had an issue with them – and equally in 2018 we had a good set up.

Our issues were broader and deeper and dismissing them as ‘feelings’ is extremely unhelpful and careless. We made a decision for ourselves, as amateur players, who absolutely love our sport, to step away from it. This decision was not taken lightly and our intention was never to cause upset for anyone rather to protect the well-being of each other.

We appreciate that not every player may have experienced or witnessed these issues and also we appreciate that a number of us did not address these fully with the rest of the Mayo panel.

Despite this, many of the remaining panel did attend a players meeting on Saturday July 7th and did agree that there were issues at play.

Secondly, an opportunity for all of the departed players and current players to sit down and discuss the situation on Sunday July 8th was ultimately pulled by the county board and others. In addition, mediation, which was another opportunity for engagement and agreement (even to disagree) was hindered by what we believe was an unfair process.

At this point, we are completely disillusioned and our attempts to remain dignified after such a significant decision have been undermined. When we raised our issues they were dismissed, when mediation failed we were let go and now we feel we are being portrayed as weak, hysterical, hyper sensitive people when in reality we made a choice for ourselves, and felt strong enough to do so.

What does the reaction say to people who want to ever speak up, who ever want to raise an issue that this is how we handle it? We must be able to tell all players that their opinions, their feelings and their experiences matter.

We must be able to listen when they have a problem with structures in place. We must not publicly shame them or indeed ban them from doing what they love before we hear what they have to say properly and before we consider player welfare in its truest sense.

We do appreciate that all parties have been affected, especially our fellow team-mates. They have expressed this and now we have too.

One of the saddest outcomes of the whole thing is that there has been a serious strain put on friendships. We were within our rights to walk away from something that we felt was wrong and whatever people may ultimately think, we were pushed to a stage where the right option, the healthy option, was to remove ourselves.

Finally, we have been and will continue to be proud Mayo people. We have been privileged and honoured to represent Mayo and always will only want the best and have the highest expectations for anyone who takes to the field in a Mayo jersey.

We hope this answers the questions which have been in the public sphere and we as a group hope that this will bring an end to a very tough time in all our lives. We do not wish to comment any further.

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Emma Duffy

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