James Horan satisfied following strong League campaign
By Cian O’Connell
It was a satisfactory and successful spring for Mayo with the emergence of some promising young talent adding to the feel good factor for James Horan.
Returning to the green and red hotseat, Horan was anxious to integrate players. So how Matthew Ruane, Ciaran Treacy, James Carr, and Fionn McDonagh contributed during the Allianz Football League campaign brought plenty of encouragement.
That Mayo earned silverware on the Croke Park stage last month ensures significant hope and expectation is attached once more.
Speaking at Tuesday’s Connacht Championship launch ahead of next week’s trip to New York Horan acknowledged that it has been a decent spell for his evolving team.
“At the start of the League there were a lot of things we were looking at,” Horan remarked. “There are key elements of our game that we think we need to improve on, so we’re working on those.
“We got some new players in there as well, and that was more important than anything else, improving on those things and getting new players. We stuck with that through every game. There were games that were tight where we stuck to what wanted to try to get out of the League.
“Thankfully we got results as well, so it worked out a very strong League for us. We were delighted to get a national title.”
During Mayo’s League campaign, 35 players were used by Horan ensuring the net was cast wide as a collection of emerging and established performers were blended together.
“It’s not as strategic as you might think,” Horan states. “You have a lot of injured players throughout a League, and you have Sigerson and other things, so some of that is necessity as much as anything else.
“But we certainly tried to get as many guys who were in form in training on to the field as well. It worked well.”
Horan doesn’t agree that the demands on players have increased dramatically in recent years. “I don’t think so,” Horan remarks. “I’ve had this debate many times. I know young swimmers in Castlebar that are spending more time in the pool than inter-county players are on the field.
“I know an amount of cyclists, middle-aged men who are spending more time on their bikes, and no one knows or cares they are doing it. I haven’t ever bought into that.”
The Mayo boss is adamant that it isn’t a sacrifice to play at inter-county level. “You ask any player: they love what they’re doing,” Horan adds. “I think it’s important that their work-life balance integration is right. We’ve tried to look at that and we’ve done a lot of good work with the GPA to make sure that’s right for players.
“The age profile of the team we have, Seamie O’Shea is getting married on Friday, Chris Barrett got married at Christmas, Kevin McLoughlin is just recently married. There is a lot of that happening. You can’t section away certain things; it’s got to align as much as possible. We’re very conscious of that.”
Mayo, who arrive in New York on Thursday week, plan to stay for a few days after the match on Sunday. “That’s a huge benefit of it that we get together on the Wednesday night, we’ll train on the Wednesday night in Abbottstown before we go,” Horan confirms.
“We will fly out Thursday morning so you’ll have guys that really haven’t spent an overnight before, Fermanagh before we played Tyrone type thing, that’s about all some of the new guys have experienced, so that’s huge benefit.
“Get everyone together for a couple of days, couple of sessions together and just generally spending time and figuring out what makes guys tick. That’s a huge part of the team development. So there’s a huge amount of benefits to traveling to New York from that aspect for sure.
“We will have a few sessions after the game as well, try to make the most of our time there for the game.”
Before returning this year, Horan's last match in charge of Mayo was the epic All Ireland Semi-Final replay loss to Kerry at the Gaelic Grounds in 2014. What type of dressing room did Horan find? "It was different," Horan answers.
"The last dressing-room I was in with those guys was down in Limerick so that was an interesting dressing-room. They have a couple of years since of ups and downs. It was very different. Some guys were more vocal than I remember, other guys were less. It is funny how people change during that time. Overall, the commitment and the motivation of these guys is phenomenal. We blew off a few cobwebs here and there and we were ready to go again."
A challenge existed and that is precisely why Horan left punditry to go back operating at the highest level once more. "Where I get my kicks is working with guys who are highly motivated that want to try to improve," Horan says.
"I love doing that side of the coaching things, just seeing where you can go with guys and seeing what is possible. That buzz, I always get a great kick out of that. I wasn’t in any particular rush or I didn’t have any action chart of when and where I would get back involved. The way things happened, I was delighted to get the opportunity again to work with these guys and the newer guys coming through. It wasn’t by design."