Mayo boss James Horan furious over Mayo rift 'lies'
Boss slams 'disgraceful' report of row with Buckley as he rubbishes dictator accusation
Mayo football manager James Horan has hit out strongly at a local newspaper report that he has had a serious falling out with his coach and selector Donie Buckley.
The suggestion was made in the 'Connaught Telegraph' newspaper by a local journalist, who had also delivered a stinging critique of the management's performance in the wake of the All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin last September.
But the suggestion of a rift with Buckley, who joined the Mayo back room last year as a coach and has been elevated to selector for 2014 after James Nallen's departure, has really angered Horan.
Buckley's absence from a training session on a Tuesday night a couple of weeks before the New York game was the catalyst for the story, according to Horan.
"It's mind-boggling really," he said in an interview with another local newspaper, the 'Western People'.
"If this reporter bothered to go to any of our sessions, he'd know that because of our geography, it doesn't make sense to bring eight or nine Dublin-based players down every Tuesday. So we split the sessions and we alternate who takes the sessions.
"On that particular night, Donie was taking the Dublin session and I was taking the session in Claremorris. The information published in his article was disgraceful and I just cannot understand how something that's completely untrue can get published."
"That article was published the week before we played our first championship match. It was complete lies on a full page of a local paper. It didn't impact our preparation at all, but it did create a fuss around the team from some of the public, which is far from ideal."
Buckley and Horan are known to challenge each other strongly over team matters and tactics, but the relationship between coach and manager remains healthy and they are united in pursuit of an elusive All-Ireland title.
Horan denied that the perception of him as stubborn and dictatorial is an accurate one.
"That perception is probably coming from some of the stuff written by the aforementioned journalist and is a complete untruth in my opinion," he said.
"I don't know how any modern-day manager could be stubborn or dictatorial because of the big support team that needs to work so closely in tandem to run an inter-county team. That day of one-man ruling with an iron fist is gone.
"Managing highly educated, motivated young athletes that are all keen to learn requires a team of people working together and that's why those articles were so wide of the mark."
Despite the lacklustre performance against Derry in the league semi-final, Horan says lessons have been taken on board for the remainder of the championship – and mistakes will not be repeated.
"There could be a load of little things that were a tiny bit off," he said of the league semi-final.
"We could have taken them a bit for granted, or we could have trained too hard, or we might have eased down things too much. Or maybe we just got caught on the day. But rest assured and be certain of this – we have learned from that performance and that won't happen this team again in 2014."
Horan feels Mayo attacked as well as any other team during the league, but let themselves down defensively too often.
"Our defending wasn't as good as it could be. If you think about this team over the last three years, our defending has been one of the cornerstones of our performances and we needed to focus on that again," he said.
"We were the highest goalscorers in the league and won our three home games.
"I would have liked to win another one on the road, like we did last year down in Cork, but we didn't. Our attacking play was as good as there is in the country, but on the other hand, we let in a number of soft goals. So we've worked hard on that over the past few weeks."
Restoring Keith Higgins to corner-back was not a direct reaction to the defensive malaise he refers to, Horan insisted.
"We put Keith into the defence for the New York game because he was the best player to put there for that particular game," he said.
"Any game Keith has played for us in Croke Park at wing-forward, he has played very, very well, so he's an option for us there.
"The concession of goals is always more than the last pass, but people see the last pass and who scores and think the corner-back might have stopped it. But the majority of goals are created further out the field," reflected Horan, who says he is "more excited than ever" heading into the 2014 championship.
On the injury front, goalkeeper David Clarke has returned to action with his club Ballina after a long lay-off with a serious hamstring injury.