James Horan keeping Mayo's standards high
By Cian O'Connell
In Mayo, where Gaelic Football talk dominates the agenda, Ciaran McDonald's influence endures.
Now a key part of James Horan's management team, McDonald, such a stylish footballer, will always have admirers in the west.
Horan's work at various stages in the past decade, establishing Mayo as a respected force, has featured different backroom teams.
Now emerging Mayo players are being assisted by McDonald, who occupies a central role for the green and red.
"Firstly he is a brilliant coach and he has worked with the development squads in Mayo for a while now," Horan says about McDonald. "Himself and James Burke in particular work really well together.
"Ciaran has an interesting take on the game and we are very aligned on what are the key things that are needed for Gaelic at a high level so definitely aligned there.
"He has some very good ideas on where we can make further gains and what we can do and any and all ideas are welcome.
"We try things, some of them work, some of them don’t, but we’ll definitely keep trying things to try to get better and better."
The fact that so many players are being integrated into the Mayo panel is a source of huge optimism.
Sunday's All Ireland SFC semi-final against Tipperary is the next test with Horan encouraged by the manner in which Mayo eked out a valuable win over Galway in the Connacht decider.
"I think we started pretty well as regards energy and what we were trying to do," Horan admits.
"We had the breeze and we had a lot of possession and we didn’t utilise it as much as possible, but we did a lot of things right.
"We were under pressure with their kick outs, but we stuck at it. I suppose there was a couple of things, Tommy Conroy chased a guy down at a short kick out and won a turnover.
The in form Mattie Ruane also made some important interventions according to Horan.
"And there were times we attacked very well, Mattie’s score in the second half an Brian Walsh when he came in, there were a couple of things we did well," Horan adds.
"At the end of the game we were against the wind, against momentum, down a man and at the end of a six week campaign and to get through a game like that is always good for togetherness so that was a big output of the game too."
While excited about the talent that is starting to flourish in Mayo, Horan has also been forced to omit experienced figures from the team matchday panel since returning to inter-county action in October.
"There are some conversations where it is one of the tougher sides of the job," Horan states. "But you’ve seen a lot of those players play over the last decade, and how committed and how straight and honest they are and how they play. "We always say that players are the first to know, players know.
"And it’s funny if you lay out the criteria, the guys in form and the guys that are playing well regardless of whether they are just in or here ten years, or age or size, it doesn’t matter, the player in form plays and we have a clear criteria on that.
"It makes things clear for everyone, it makes it more straight forward maybe, but still guys are going to be very disappointed for sure. That’s the nature of sport, or high level sport."
It is an arena in which Horan and Mayo continue to produce.