In the end, James Horan settled on a neat half century, his second spell in charge of Mayo coming to an end after precisely 50 National League and Championship games.
Not that there was anything neat or remotely satisfying about Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Kerry, mirroring their league final loss to the Kingdom in April, which brought what Horan described as ‘a brilliant journey’ to an end.
Mike Solan, who was in the running for the job when Horan initially got it in late 2018, is among the early favourites to step up while Knockmore’s Ray Dempsey and NUI Galway’s Sigerson Cup winning manager Maurice Sheridan may also be tempted.
Solan was part of former Mayo forward Andy Moran’s back room team in Leitrim this season and teaming up again together closer to home could appeal to them.
Likewise, Stephen Rochford, a Donegal coach in recent seasons, may be interested in pushing for a return to the position that he held for three seasons before Horan’s ascension.
Like his first four-season spell in charge between 2011 and 2014, Horan led Mayo to two All-Ireland finals during his second coming, in 2020 and 2021, though defeat was his lot again, to Dublin and Tyrone.
The 2019 National League title success at Croke Park may go down as the highlight of his reign which also included Connacht title wins in 2020 and 2021.
“We had some great times and created brilliant memories that will live on,” said Horan. “The initial focus was to make Mayo football consistently competitive on the main stage, I feel that has been achieved and the senior team have moved in the right direction. Hopefully, there is a strong base for Mayo football to be moved forward to new heights.”
Like Rochford before him, Horan will go down as another nearly manager for Mayo, another manager who almost elevated them to the Holy Grail. Last year’s All-Ireland final defeat to Tyrone will probably be remembered as the one that got away.
“James has given it everything and while the ultimate reward did not arrive, he cannot be faulted for his effort,” said Mayo chairman Seamus Tuohy. “Mayo have been consistently competitive under James and we have come agonisingly close on so many occasions.”
Meanwhile, the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee has come under considerable political pressure to take action following the apparent eye-gouge incident in Sunday’s All-Ireland quarter-final between Galway and Armagh.
An Armagh panel member was caught on camera making contact with the eye area of Galway’s Damien Comer, an act which Taoiseach Micheál Martin has described as “disturbing” and “quite concerning” while Minister for Sport Catherine Martin said that the melee which occurred after the end of normal time was “absolutely appalling”.
The CCCC will meet on Tuesday afternoon and Galway, who are scheduled to meet Derry in an All-Ireland semi-final on Saturday week, will also be anxious about potential sanctions which could come their way following a full review of the fracas.
Referee David Coldrick issued straight red cards to Galway captain Sean Kelly and Armagh forward Aidan Nugent before the beginning of extra-time.
“I think first of all there shouldn’t be a witch hunt so they have to look at it very carefully and the players who are guilty, obviously they will have to be dealt with according to the rules, for striking or whatever,” former GAA president Sean Kelly told RTE Radio.
“But I would think that the eye-gouging incident is on a different level and is something that we do not want to see ever happening again in the GAA and I think the one way to make sure that doesn’t happen is by having a very strong deterrent and I would hope that that would be reflected in the punishment dished out to the perpetrator.”
Gardai have confirmed that they are not investigating the brawl.
“I think also we have to look at how the games are managed and particularly I think having the two teams using the same tunnel is a recipe for disaster really,” added Kelly. “It’s always a worry that it may happen because all it takes is one person to push up against another or say something and then it can take off without people intending it to happen that way.”