James Horan comfortable with Mayo’s progress
Manager has chance to lead his side to the rare feat of four in a row of Connacht titles
Year four looms. You don’t have to tell James Horan that by twice bringing Mayo to the threshold of that elusive – that prayed for – All-Ireland title, the scrutiny becomes more intense and the question mark magnified. It is a question that any Mayo person not yet of pensionable age has been hearing all of their lives. Is this the year?
On a draughty night in late May, James Horan wandered through a deserted MacHale Park, sat at a table and, as he talked comfortably about past disappointments and immediate hopes, his answer to that eternal question became clear. He simply doesn’t know. The questions were fast and Horan answered them all considerately and laced with a deadpan humour which rarely emerges in his post-match interviews.
Horan’s record is both glittering and telling: three Connacht championships in a row, two All-Ireland defeats in a row. Its form line illuminates that the one promise which Horan made when he took the Mayo job – that the team would be “consistently competitive” – has been kept.
But those two September losses have brought into sharp focus once more Mayo’s unhappy All-Ireland final history and has made Horan’s role and his every move subject to intense interest. The irony is if Mayo were merely average, losing Connacht finals and exiting the championship in the last 12, nobody would notice.
“Some of the stuff in the media is so ridiculous it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone I would say,” he said of the stories that have emanated down the years. “You have people trying to generate something where there isn’t anything. What it does is give us a great laugh . . . we bring in stuff and have a look at it in the team room and it does generate novelty in the team room.
“Mayo is a county that has the highest number of Twitter followers and Facebook followers combined. So we are mad anyway! So I am very privileged to be where I am and working with a fantastic bunch of players. All they want to do is play football at their absolute best. So there is always going to be flak.
“Any Mayo man that has ever been here . . . has always taken heat. But we are comfortable. The players are very happy and are very excited about this year. As am I. When I took this job I said we would be consistently competitive. When I started, I don’t think Mayo was mentioned by anyone as a realistic option for the All-Ireland. Now we are always mentioned in the first two or three. We are doing something right and making progress. And we are very, very comfortable with how we are improving.”
He has constantly counselled against extremes of emotion. The difference in Mayo was made clear to him a few years ago when he took a team to Ballyshannon to play Donegal in the league. The first 20 minutes were so-so and low scoring but then Donegal got a run and it turned into one of those spring nightmares for the visitors.