James Horan says training is not leading to Mayo injuries as Keegan joins absentees
Lee Keegan became the latest addition to injury list after win over Armagh on Saturday
Mayo’s Lee Keegan leaves the field injured during their All-Ireland SFC qualifier win over Armagh. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Falling over the finish line will always be better than falling just short of it, only Mayo manager John Horan was still left counting the cost of victory over Armagh in Castlebar on Saturday evening.
Their championship hopes are still alive – the nervy, shaky one-point win sending Mayo into Monday’s draw for the round four qualifiers – and yet the hope is it won’t be over for Lee Keegan, who joins their lengthy injury list after limping off just before half-time, clearly in significant discomfort after rolling on his right ankle.
Mayo had lost Diarmuid O’Connor during the week to a wrist injury, coming after Mattie Ruane’s season-ending injury, Seamus O’Shea also still missing. Jason Doherty also retired with what also appeared to be an ankle injury – the only positive against that being the first appearance all year of Cillian O’Connor.
Such is the nature of the game, especially down on Qualifier Avenue: what Horan didn’t like was a certain line of questioning which suggested Mayo’s injury list has something to do with their training methods (reportedly made during a local podcast).
“If you’re reporting stuff, surely you do a bit of research,” said Horan. “Come to training. We have not stopped anybody coming to training. People are commentating on stuff and it is absolutely ridiculous.
“We play a games-based approach to our training sessions. There are 30 people on the field... some of the commentary which has been reported back to me, we have a good laugh at it. If people are making comments then try and get some details, or try and get some evidence.”
With just the week to prepare for their next game, against one of the four beaten provincial finalists, it will stretch Mayo’s panel yet further: Keegan for one will do well to recover in time, Horan admitting he’d “no idea” how bad the injury was.
“It is just the nature of qualifiers,” added Horan, “the nature of team sport, there are going to be injuries. I think we used more players than any other county in the national league this year so we developed a lot of players and they are going to get the chance to step up. So in one way it is good for them.”
With 10 minutes of normal time remaining, Mayo were still up 2-11 to 1-9, only to be outscored six points to two in the time that remained. Armagh’s squandered a few late changes to go back in front – Jamie Clarke forcing a close-up save from David Clarke, Rory Grugan’s point fired just over the crossbar when it might just have easily gone under.
“We should have closed it out a bit better,” added Horan, “but we had to dig hard in the last couple of minutes, we did that very well. Our full back line and Colm Boyle in particular was under pressure but showed very well for kick outs and they give us the platform to finish out the game.
“We were five up, and attacking, and gave away a sloppy turnover and Armagh went down and got a score and got a couple of frees and momentum went their way. I thought we fought it back well, stemmed the tide and ran out deserving winners in the end. Delighted with the win, we’re in the pot on Monday.
Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney was left counting on a different front – as in what he considered to be a shortage of injury time. Four added minutes were announced, and while referee Maurice Deegan actually played five, McGeeney still considered that a little short.
The last shot at goal was Armagh searching for extra-time, only Niall Grimley’s effort drifted just wide. Ambitious perhaps, but they wouldn’t have been undeserving of it – all the momentum and energy with the Ulster team at that stage.
“There were at least 10 head injuries in that second half and nobody was taken off,” said McGeeney. “It’s very hard to take. We have played in games this year with six or seven minutes added with no head injuries.
“The boys really put a great shift in and you would think they would deserve something from it. That’s sport, it’s a cruel thing at times. That’s nothing to do with Mayo or James [Horan], that’s not his call. That’s the man in the middle.
“There were more stoppages in that game. But listen, you can’t take away from Mayo. Jamie was unlucky with the goal, and so was Rory. We had the chances, didn’t take them. There were a lot of different things but at the end of the day that was probably the most important one.”
After five seasons with Armagh, the 2002 All-Ireland winning captain did record a first Ulster championship win over Down, and also knocked out last year’s beaten All-Ireland semi-finalists Monaghan in round two: still McGeeney was left counting up some reasons why he might not stay for a sixth season.
“I’d say there are 101 reasons,” he said, clearly in some jest. “We have improved, but we probably don’t have the same dark arts experience that other teams have and it just costs us at the end of games. It’s probably a wee bit early yet, I couldn’t be any prouder of the players. It’s a pity they didn’t get any more out of it, they deserved a wee bit more from that that, but that’s the way it goes.
“You have to listen to some shit, but when you work with fellas like that there, it can make it worthwhile. They are a really good bunch of fellas and it’s a joy to be able to go to training with them and see them in action. They really go for things, they have no fear and they play a really nice brand of football. They go at it, and when they don’t get rewarded for the way they play, that’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes.”
Mayo defender Colm Boyle described is as a “dogfight”, no less relieved than his manager to be still in the mix: “People at home mightn’t appreciate how difficult that swirling breeze was – difficult to kick into. We kicked some absolutely brilliant scores which lifted us at different times. Armagh were coming at us particularly at the start of the second half – just nudged us in front and then got the goal from Kevin McLoughlin– made a massive impact coming off the bench and that’s what we are going to need next week.”
That much is certain.