James Horan believes stars are aligning for Mayo at right time

Former manager outlines factors that favour his native county in All-Ireland football final

 Former Mayo manager James Horan. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Former Mayo manager James Horan. Photograph: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

 

James Horan can’t help thinking this could be Mayo’s year. Why not? They’ve enough going for them against Dublin on Sunday week to end that long reign of defeats – which Horan himself still feels as much as the players themselves,

During Horan’s tenure as manager, Mayo lost the 2012 football final (to Donegal) and 2013 final (to Dublin) before he stepped away two years ago, his ambition unfulfilled. Horan doesn’t mind admitting he’s been watching his old team as closely as ever – and he sees three things in their favour.

They’re building, peaking even, for tomorrow week; there’s an uncertainty about them, compared to recent years, and that’s a good thing; and Dublin have already spent a lot of emotional energy to beat Kerry, and replenishing that energy is not easy.

“It’s been a very different lead in for a start,” he says. “You feel like Mayo have been getting stronger and better and you’d hope that is leading to a crescendo. And maybe traditionally Mayo hit it earlier, so that’s very good.

“And I don’t know who’s going to be starting for Mayo. That’s probably different to what it’s been. It’s been a very set team for very valid reasons for a while. This year there are definitely more options. You’ve Patrick Durcan, Brendan Harrison playing very, very well. Andy Moran’s like a new player. You’ve Conor O’Shea coming on and doing very well.

Best performance

“They’ve been winning games and they haven’t been flying either. They’ll have to give their best performance on the biggest day this year but defensively they’re set up well. They’ve everyone fit. Diarmuid O’Connor seems to be raring to go and it’s great to have 33 and everyone absolutely fit.

“And it’s about getting the most effective set-up, when to have guys back, when to have guys forward. Against Dublin you have to shoot a pretty big score to beat them. That’ll be in the Mayo guys’ minds.”

The experience of losing those two finals, plus last year’s semi-final to Dublin, after a replay, is something he believes will also stand to them. “And there is more unpredictability about them,” says Horan, speaking in Croke Park at the launch of EirGrid as the ‘official timing sponsor’.

Jim Gavin won’t be as sure about what he’ll face, or who he will face. I know Jim will say regardless of the opposition they will set themselves up, but there are always match-ups in every game, particularly Mayo against Dublin, because they are similar teams with similar guys.

“It’s Mayo in the All Ireland final not having played like they can so you feel it is coming together at the right time. So that will give confidence too. You have to remember the core of them are there since 2010 and 2011 and they have experienced ups and downs.

“So I don’t think any pumping up is required if you think about it and who they are playing. Dublin are a great team, they want their two in a row, the glory and the legacy. They have four leagues in a row and think they should be going for four All-Irelands in a row but they got caught against Donegal. They want that glory, there is no question about it. Mayo know that, and with their history wanted nothing more than a crack at Dublin.

“Jim has been using it for a few weeks now – ‘the bounce of a ball’, and it genuinely is it. Look at the history. Even last year in the drawn game Dublin were on the ropes at the end of the first one and Mayo should have won that.

Fireworks

“And they’re the two best conditioned teams in the history of Gaelic games, in my opinion. But that’s just one aspect of it. They have a huge amount of top-level players as well. When you throw it all in together, there will be fireworks.”

As for a potential weakness in Dublin, Horan points not so much to what they’ve not got but what they’ve already given. “The build-up to the Kerry game for them was huge. There’s huge emotional involvement in a game like that, then to win, and to win it the way they did, it’s hard not to bask in that for a while, think how strong they are. So it’s going to be hard for Dublin to get back. No matter what Jim says, he needs to manage that as a manager and have them right.

“And I’d be always confident in what Mayo can do. I think they’re learning all the time, they’re getting better all the time, with more options. Dublin are obviously strong. I think it’ll be a cracking game, with Mayo to pull clear in the last five minutes.”

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