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All-Star midfielder and Carnacon great open to Mayo return under new management

Fiona McHale has been absent from the set-up since 2018.

Fiona McHale last played for Mayo in 2018.
Fiona McHale last played for Mayo in 2018.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

FORMER MAYO STAR Fiona McHale says she is open to a potential return to the Green and Red set-up in 2021 under new management. 

The Carnacon midfielder was one of 12 players to leave the panel in the summer of 2018, originally citing “player welfare issues” as the reason for their departure. She was vice-captain at the time.

After a lengthy saga and back-and-forth with then-manager Peter Leahy, and further drama involving Carnacon specifically, the group released a statement noting that “lack of communication, being undermined, intimidated, feeling isolated and eventually helpless in the entire situation” were the main reasons.

No Carnacon players — or then captain Sarah Tierney of Hollymount, among others — have since represented Mayo under Leahy’s watch.

But following the Westmeath native’s recent departure and the opening of applications for a new management team, questions are being asked about a potential return.

Long-serving McHale, an All-Star in 2016 who’s widely considered one of the best midfielders of the modern era, was happy to answer those questions on Midwest Radio yesterday, when asked if she was hopeful that she and her fellow Carnacon players could line out for Mayo again.

“Yeah, well I can only speak for myself personally,” she told Michael D. McAndrew.

“It’s always been a massive privilege playing for Mayo and it’s not anything that I ever took for granted. I played for Mayo for 14-15 years, and I obviously haven’t played now in the last three years.

“You only get a certain amount of time to play inter-county football. You’ve only a certain amount of years and then they’re gone.

“We obviously know there’s no manager in at the moment, or no management team, and we don’t know who that will be.

“If they saw me being able to add something to the squad, and if they saw me as part of their plans, I’d be definitely willing to have a conversation or think about it for sure.”

Despite controversial off-field matters and their disappointing championship exit at the hands of Armagh in 2020, Mayo have been a consistent force at senior level over the last few years.

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Following their last final appearance in 2017, they reached the quarter-final in ’18 and the semi in ’19.

With plenty of young talent in their ranks, the future certainly looks bright, and with a new county board in place — Des Phillips is the chairman — after problems in that department, it looks like 2021 will be all about the football.

Fiona 2 (1) McHale on the ball for Carnacon.

For now, McHale, who has dipped her toes into club coaching with the Claremorris mens’ senior football team, is focusing on the present, “tipping away at your own bits of training” through lockdown 3.0.

“It’s nice to have downtime,” the 33-year-old added, also reflecting on 2020 as a whole. “We were probably saying that during the first lockdown in March but obviously, it’s extended a lot longer than people envisaged.

“We had a relatively good year with Carnacon. We were very happy to win the county title at the end of the season. We were very disappointed to lose out to Kilkerrin-Clonberne in the Connacht championship. We probably didn’t do ourselves justice on the day, but they’re an excellent side and they’re only getting stronger every year.

“I’ll be looking forward to going back training again with the girls. I was playing with UL as well last year. It was literally the day before the O’Connor Cup was set to take place that everything was shut down because of Covid-19. We didn’t get to play it in the end.

“In a way now it’s kind of normal that I haven’t played a game in so long or anything like that but I don’t dwell on it. You just try and tip away at training and make the most of what you have really.”

In a wide-ranging interview, McHale also spoke about her role as vice chair of Next Gen, the GPA and WGPA, the late venue change of the 2020 All-Ireland semi-final and other off-field matters in ladies football, and AFLW being televised on TG4.

You can listen to the full interview here.

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Emma Duffy

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