James Horan projects the air of man under police protection who has realised that the attempts on his life were nothing more than a car backfiring.
The Mayo manager has led the county back to the All-Ireland final within a year of last year’s disappointment. But after a summer of surfing through fairly recreational matches, yesterday brought an authentic touch of fear to the project, as in the first half Tyrone gave the Connacht champions their worst half of the championship to date.
“It’s obviously a very pleasing win. It was an All-Ireland semi-final where we didn’t play well, certainly in the first half. We made every mistake you could possibly make. To figure out what was wrong and adjust and come through and kick on and take control of the game and win by six very pleasing.
“I think there are always nerves when you are in a semi-finals. Semi-finals are for winning and no-one remembers you for just reaching a semi-final.
'Out of the rut'
"I suppose there was a small bit of nerves if I am being honest, but I think poor shot selection was really the thing and a lot of it was down to how well Tyrone played as well. Chris Barrett led us out of the rut with two great points."
Barrett and fellow defender Lee Keegan kicked three points in the shadow of the half-time break to cut the deficit to one, a state of affairs that represented an excellent piece of damage containment during 35 minutes that had seen them for the most part failing to lay a glove on their crafty opponents.
For a team that had done so much in their provincial matches and the All-Ireland quarter-final demolition of champions Donegal to suggest that they were playing to standards entirely of their own prescription – regardless of the opposition – yesterday was a bracing reminder that All-Irelands are rarely won without stress.
Horan is reluctant however to pin the display on nerves, as if that's too mundane a failing for a team drilled to as high a spec.
“I don’t think that’s it – maybe our warm up was a bit off or something like that because we have been favourites all year and it hasn’t bothered us. We’ll just have a look and see can we make sure can we start right the next day.”
His captain Andy Moran isn't as convinced on this point.
“I think there are always nerves when you are in a semi-final. Semi-finals are for winning and no one remembers you for just reaching a semi-final.
“I suppose there was a small bit of nerves if I am being honest, but I think poor shot selection was really the thing and a lot of it was down to how well Tyrone played as well. Chris Barrett led us out of the rut with two great points.”
After the dust has settled however the bottom line remains: a six-point win in an All-Ireland semi-final they never really looked like losing, as the second half wore on.
As if desperate to give him something to fret about, Horan is asked whether yet another unencumbered finish isn’t a cause for worry. Isn’t it?
“It’s okay though,” replies the Mayo manager to laughter. “Well today was a grind. It was the hardest grind we had, particularly in the first half. We were playing poor stuff but we kept going, we kept battling.
“We missed six of the easiest shots, we missed two 14-yard frees, lost our free taker, had a goal disallowed .. but it didn’t matter. We just kept playing and eventually came through. I think today was good for us and we’ll take a lot from it.”
Neither was he upset by the disallowed goal in the first half, after Alan Freeman had scored a great effort oblivious to the fact that seconds earlier he had been granted a free.
“I saw the signal early in fairness so I didn’t get caught up in celebrations. I knew it wasn’t a goal. It was okay.
“I think we are in a better position every game we play. The last couple of games we developed physically, technically and skill-wise and we go away after every game and look at what we can take lessons from.
“I think we are starting to do that very well and are improving in areas. I think we are in a strong position now and we are looking forward to the next four weeks.”