James Horan not writing off Eoghan McLaughlin making All-Ireland final

Mayo boss hasn’t changed his mind that John Small’s tackle deserved a red card

Mayo manager James Horan looks on as Eoghan McLaughlin lies injured following a challenge by Dublin’s John Small during the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park. Photograph:James Crombie/Inpho

Mayo manager James Horan looks on as Eoghan McLaughlin lies injured following a challenge by Dublin’s John Small during the All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park. Photograph:James Crombie/Inpho

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Westport and Mayo defender Eoghan McLaughlin rejoined his county team-mates at training on Wednesday night following his weekend surgery for a jaw fracture. McLaughlin suffered the injury in a controversial tackle with Dublin defender John Small after which he was stretchered from the field of play.

“Eoghan was there last night,” confirmed manager James Horan at a media briefing in MacHale Park on Thursday lunchtime.

“Great form. Up and about. He was on his stationary bike spinning the legs so he is in great fettle.”

While the general assumption is that McLaughlin will still be recuperating when the All-Ireland final is played, Horan didn’t fully close the door on the possibility of a startling return to action.

“Oh God I didn’t say anything to him yet but I never write young guys out of anything to be honest. You would probably be better off talking to the medical guys. But certainly it was brilliant to see him there in such good spirits last night. We managed to stop him togging out but he is a brilliant character. And it was great to see him there.”

It’s a highly difficult situation for a player who has been one of the finds of Horan’s second period in charge. Hugely aerobic and powerful, McLaughlin had established himself as one of the most effective operators in the high-octane ball-carrying game which Mayo have finessed.

“Ah look . . . Eoghan was obviously in hospital on Saturday night and we were together as a group and at one stage I think they nearly had to tie him down in the bed to keep him there. Ah no, it is brilliant. He has had surgery and moved on and is up and about the place. It is great for the group and great for himself too to be up and moving on.”

The nature of the tackle left Horan unusually animated on the sideline. He hasn’t shifted from his belief that it should have resulted in a straight red card for the Dublin player but sought to offer some perspective on the moment.

“Yeah, look there are tackles like that in every footballer . . . when a ball is coming you can see the ball in your eyeline, you can see the player and you can take man and ball.

“You see it sometimes in rugby when a pass comes out from the back of the scrum and your first or second centre can take man and ball. There’s times like that you can do it. But they are hugely high-risk tackles and if they are mistimed by a second they are very, very dangerous.

“That is what we saw. John Small is a tough player, a brilliant player. Went to physically dominate that contact – but it is reckless and there is high risk with it. And more often than not they are red cards. As it should have been the last day. But as regards the tackle there are plenty of players that try and seize that opportunity for a strong tackle.”

The extent of the injuries suffered by McLaughlin led to immediate debates over whether the GAA needs to look at the viability of the shoulder tackle, given that it is so difficult to execute cleanly in an era when the players are more powerful and moving faster than ever before. Like most football people, Horan was ambivalent.

“It’s a fair point. The conditioning and therefore the speed is higher and therefore the impact. Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often but we don’t want players getting significantly injured in our game. We absolutely don’t. But I would reiterate that physicality is an important part of Gaelic football.

“And there could be a bandwagon there now that goes to look to take it and there are too many changes in Gaelic as it is. And we can be too quick to respond to one incident and we need to be sensible. And on the tackle: I think John Small is a brilliant player. Mistimed tackle that significantly hurt a player. Red card should have been the outcome and the game stopped. So there are tools there to deal with it.”

Mayo’s Oisín Mullin continues his rehabilitation from a calf injury. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Mayo’s Oisín Mullin continues his rehabilitation from a calf injury. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Meanwhile, Oisín Mullin continues his rehabilitation from the calf injury which ruled him out of Saturday’s game. The long delay between that win and the final increases his chances but Horan says it’s still a matter of wait-and-see.

“Genuinely don’t know. He is in rehab with the medical team and it’s; going well but with some of those injuries it could be six, eight, 10 weeks depending on the sort of player; some people respond quicker than others. So at the moment I genuinely don’t know.”

Mayo have to wait until Saturday week to learn of their opponents but after that famous win over Dublin, Horan rejected the idea that this was the end of anything.

“I never believe that sort of stuff. There are still probably four or five of the best players ever in the history of the game still in there. Some may not have reached their prime yet playing for Dublin. That is their basis. They didn’t play well the last day. Neither did we in a lot of patches. But Dublin will be very, very strong consistently. There is no doubt in my mind.”

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