'They'll come back better players and better people'
REACTION FROM THE MAYO CAMP:Even the iron heart feels the wrenching for Mayo football in this moment of defeat. No county can lose six All-Ireland finals, no matter how long it is since winning their last one, and not expect dirty words of regret to greet them like graffiti on their dressing room walls.
Only James Horan prefers to greet them with an iron fist. The Mayo manager emerges from the silence – the echoes of Glory Days still blaring from the Croke Park sound system – and talks of living strong, bravery in the face of adversity, that whatever about glory days there can always be better days.
“It’s the first thing we did,” says Horan, “when we sat down in that dressing room, we went through what we could improve on, what worked today and what didn’t work. And that’s been our approach all year, and is still the same.
“Yeah, our disappointment is greater, but we’ll learn from today. The team showed though, as they have all year, the character they have. They kept plugging away to the final whistle. We just couldn’t get there, but we kept trying. But we’ll have to take it on the chin, learn from it, and away they’ll go. They’ll come back better players, and better people.”
The positive mindset brought Mayo to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day and Horan believes it will bring them back.
“I think there are positives, a lot,” he adds. “Because we’d quite a few chances at the start of the second half. Some of them rushed, and some of them were snapped at. So maybe a little bit of composure there would have helped.”
Horan delivers his verdict with full eye contact, a study in how to isolate regrets without blaming them.
The losing margin of four points may be measured by some Mayo supporters as a lifetime, yet for the Mayo manager it’s a thin line, the difference between taking crucial opportunities, and surrendering them to the opposition. He makes no attempt to disguise where and when it went wrong.
“Give a team like Donegal a seven-point start it’s going to be very difficult to come back against them. Having said that, we stuck at it, and had chances. If we had taken them then things might have been closer. Because in the second quarter we were dominant, very dominant, and were doing a lot of things right.
“But all during the game, as regards our play, some of the fundamentals weren’t as strong as they needed to be. Our first touch inside let us down. The ball was hopping off us quite a bit, and Donegal were sweeping up and coming out in waves, which is very difficult to deal with. Some of our decision -making too and some of our basic skills let us down.”
For a team that had only conceded two goals all summer – and both against Down, in their All-Ireland quarter-final – conceding two goals in the opening 11 minutes of an All-Ireland final was always likely to strike a hard blow to the confidence, and so it proved.
“Yeah, and the two of them should have been defended better. The first goal Michael Murphy won one of the first balls in and got a yard and then produced a very good shot.
“It’s not like us though. The second goal came from a ball hitting off a post. We had it again but then dropped it. That was hard to take.”
When Horan is casually reminded that Mayo might well have had a free at the other end, moments before Donegal struck with goal number two, he maintains full eye contact.
“Well it could be a free, but it wasn’t. So it wasn’t a free. Ah, but then when the ball came back off the posts, we had it in our hands, and we dropped it. So that’s what I’m saying. We had the chance to clear it, and we didn’t. It didn’t go our way but maybe we should have been stronger there. They came down and got the goal and that was hard to take and it rattled us for a while.”
“The goals that went in were just from basic mistakes we made high up the pitch that gave them opportunities.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with how Donegal set up or moved their play. It was just a case of our skills letting us down.”
When they finally played to their strengths, so too did the pressure turn on Donegal, and yet Mayo’s faults pursued them until the end: it’s no good giving chase unless you catch up.
“But that’s what I’m saying, and I’m sort of repeating myself here. Some of the fundamentals just let us down today . . . . and that’s the way I would see the game, and the way it sort of petered out. I’m not sure what Donegal got from play, but their two goals, obviously, if you took those out, it would be a different scenario.”