James Horan remains optimistic
By Cian O'Connell
"It’s definitely more straightforward for us," Mayo manager James Horan admits about the fact that less hype surrounds Saturday's All Ireland SFC Final against Dublin at Croke Park.
Traditionally backed and followed by a vocal support, Mayo have dealt with the changed circumstances impressively in the restructured 2020 Championship.
"Going to training - going away from training there’s no involvement with other people and with Covid there can’t be people around or whatever," Horan adds.
"It’s very calm and low key and it’s like any training in December there isn’t too many people standing out in the cold.
"So it does make it more straightforward and maybe easier to plan and less interference with players and the ticket scenario and partners and where they are sitting.
"And look that typically doesn’t become too big of an issue, but it is always knocking around in the background and there is none of that this year so it does streamline it a bit."
The semi-final success over Tipperary at an almost deserted GAA headquarters was another reminder of the landscape in this strange campaign.
"Very different," Horan remarks. "Once you get there, there’s usually a bustle of activity around Croker for All Ireland semi finals so it was very quiet.
"Even the warm up and the start of the game, you can actually have a conversation or can hear what the players are saying to each other or have a conversation.
"And they can hear what we are talking about on the sideline too so yeah bizarre situation.
"My daughters were able to tell me what I was saying at the side of the pitch from the TV too.
"So yeah definitely something to factor in. It is very strange, I remember I was saying something to the guy beside me about a player and the player stopped and looked over at us in the course of the game because he could hear what we were talking about, but bizarre that way how it pans out."
Mayo's approach under Horan continues to glean admirers, stitching a four match victorious run together over Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway, and Tipperary offering encouragement.
"I think the way we play we take calculated risks," Horan comments ahead of the Dublin tussle. We think it's how we play best and our best chance of winning games and that's what we'll do.
"You see a lot of teams that don't take risks and play it safe, I don't know if they have a chance of winning with that mindset.
"We know what we're about, where we're strong and we'll go after that. There's no doubt about that. There's a lot additionally that we're trying to add to our game as well and bit by bit that's coming together as well."
Horan has made a significant effort to integrate emerging Mayo talent into the panel.
"I think we've more options this year than we've had before, that's probably the easiest way to say it," Horan replies when asked about Mayo's improving scoring returns.
"Mark Moran had a knock, he's coming back from injury, he has scored heavy for us this year. We've some other players, Ryan [O'Donoghue] has come in and done well, Tommy [Conroy] is scoring heavy for us.
"We've more options and some to come off the bench as well. Darren Coen came on the last day and he was a heavy scorer in Mayo club football this season.
"So we have more options in very simple terms which is a great place to be in."
Ultimately Horan is adamant that Mayo can make a serious bid to hoist the Sam Maguire Cup for the first time since 1951.
A string of harrowing losses occurred in the past decade, but Mayo remain optimistic.
“It’s a different team, a different setup, a different environment," Horan states.
"A different world. Where we are, we’re absolutely enjoying what we’re doing, there’s a freshness to us.
"We’re improving at a rate of knots, we hope to improve again before Saturday.
"We’re looking forward to the challenge and not worrying about consequences or outcomes too much, we’re just enjoying being able to play football, to give people a bit of joy from time to time."