James Horan using past defeats as a motivation
With Mayo looking to bridge a 62-year gap manager feels no pressure
Mayo manager James Horan admits to using some of Mayo’s distant past as motivation for their future. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
It may well be his single most conspicuous managerial trait is patience, which is a good thing, because the next person who asks James Horan about Mayo’s troubled past in All-Ireland football finals will be testing it to the hilt.
How heavily does history weigh in, James? The 62-year wait and all that? Is Mayo’s losing record another psychological battle to overcome? What are your memories of 1997, and losing that second All-Ireland final in a row? Is this team better prepared than last year? (And that was just for starters.)
That Horan has so far answered this line of questioning not just with patience but with courtesy too clearly suggests he has both the insight, and the foresight, to look beyond it: if Mayo are to lose to Dublin it won’t come down to anything that happened in the long distant past, or at least presumably not.
That’s not saying Mayo’s history doesn’t form an inevitable backdrop to Sunday’s showdown in Croke Park, and Horan himself is the first to admit it. He is, however, more concerned about Mayo’s recent history, such as winning a third Connacht title in succession (for the first time, incidentally, since Mayo’s All-Ireland winning run of 1951), or for taking out, for the third year in succession, the reigning All-Ireland champions (Cork in 2011, Dublin in 2012, and Donegal in 2013).
Improving all the time
Because this Mayo team, as Horan repeats, almost as many times as he’s asked the question about Mayo’s past, is improving all the time.
“You obviously pick up experiences each year you’re involved,” he says, with a nod to the three years he’s now been in charge. “So you use some of that to make it a more effective preparation this year. And as regards football, we’ve been relentlessly working on improving our game for three years, so, you know, we’re a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, and our skill set a little bit better this year.
“So I think we’ve got better at everything we do. We are much more effective now with the ball in hand than maybe we were. Our strike rates, maybe not so much in the Tyrone game, but in all the other games, have been to a high standard. When you have the ball you want to score and that is an area we certainly improved on.
“But on big game days, for me, it’s your skill and technique and sticking to the process that will see you through. That’s something we have been very strong on all year. We have just kept plugging away, whether we were up or down, whatever the score was, and that is what we will be looking to continue to do, trying to drive on for 70 minutes.”
Delve into the past
This is what will win the game for Mayo on Sunday, provided they are indeed good enough. When he does delve into the past, or at least looks at last year’s final defeat to Donegal, Horan is perfectly content to admit his team didn’t play well enough on the day, not that they weren’t good enough.