Horan manages Mayo’s expectations
Focus fixed on All-Ireland football quarter-final challenge of Cork and no further
Mayo manager James Horan with Aidan O’Shea after Mayo defeated Galway in this year’s Connacht senior football final. Mayo now face Cork in the All-Ireland quarter-finals at Croke Park on Sunday. Photograph: Donall Farmer
There is managerial pressure and then there is managing Mayo. By rights, James Horan should cut an ashen figure, having guided Mayo to the past two All-Ireland finals only to see his side lose narrowly and cruelly to Donegal and Dublin.
They are close to cracking the code but in Mayo, the want for a senior championship within the county is as fierce as ever.
But as Horan sets out for a fourth consecutive All-Ireland quarter-final series, he looks much the same, sitting in front of an audience in a desolate hospitality room in MacHale Park and sounding as he has always sounded: calm, optimistic and grounded. Sunday brings Mayo back to where it started.
Three years ago, his team ransacked Cork by 1-13 to 2-6 in the quarter-final when the Leesiders were champions. Only 22,000 people were in Croke Park: Mayo winning was considered a shock. It was a statement that they were back and they haven’t really gone away since.
Hairstyles“There have been some changes since that game in terms of hairstyles and weight,” Horan laughs. “We were just watching it the last day and it was gas to watch. That was obviously a huge game for us, a huge game for this team the way that we drove on that day and went toe to toe.
“That really spring-boarded us and gave this team confidence and was one of the huge catalysts in this team performance. It was a significant day for us which we remember very fondly. We gained a lot of experience since then and we are looking to push on all the time.”
That last line has been the constant refrain of the Horan era. They play and move on, figure out what they did right and wrong and work on both of those.
They are an unusual team now: physically imposing and almost traditional in one sense but completely cavalier and instinctive in the way they attack from the back.
Play-anywhere has been a feature of Horan’s Mayo and it has carried through to club games. A few weeks ago, he watched his nominal wing back Donal Vaughan play full forward for Ballinrobe in the local championship.
“Yeah, I was lucky enough to be there at that game. Yeah, if they let the ball into him a lot more he would have scored more. He is very powerful, scoring off both feet and that was one of the pleasing things.
“Donal’s skill development has been massive over the last couple of years, from solo technique to hand-passing, to both sides, he was very competent as a full forward.”
Horan has been so immersed in the Connacht campaign until now he has hardly seen much of the championship beyond that. He has heard the rumblings of summer thunder emanating from the capital and heard Dublin are playing darkly beautiful attacking football this season. But he hasn’t watched the Leinster final.
“No, no . . . I’ll watch it when and if I need to.” He pauseswhen asked about the theory that the Dubs are regarded as champions-elect. Years of experience have taught him about the excitability of media and public reaction. It isn’t exactly an unknown force in Mayo.