'People have short memories, Mayo won't be far off' - Horan
They might not be the team on everyone's lips as the championship kicks into gear but James Horan insists Mayo haven't gone away and "won't be far off" come the business end in the race for Sam Maguire.
After Kerry and Dublin lit up Croke Park in last month's Division 1 league final, All-Ireland honours are predominantly being tipped for the Kingdom or the capital with Mayo a distant third in the betting after a stop-start league campaign.
Having led Mayo close to the promised land with All-Ireland final defeats in 2012 and 2013 during his four-year reign, Horan is keeping the faith that their 66-year famine can be broken, however, and refuses to be blinded by recent events.
"It's amusing. People remember the last goal, the last catch whatever it is and that was just the last game of football that was played and it happened to be Dublin and Kerry," Horan said at Sky's 2017 GAA championship coverage launch yesterday.
"There was a lot of other stuff that went on in that league. Look at Donegal's run at the start of that league. Did they pull back the reins later on? There's all that kind of stuff. Tyrone's start and look at the way they ended.
"They are not that bad. And maybe Kerry aren't that good. It's hard to know exactly but Mayo have had a couple of games in the league that they had to win and they won them comfortably and shut themselves down. They were within a Cillian O'Connor free of drawing (in last year's final) so they won't be far off."
As their Connacht SFC campaign begins this Sunday with a quarter-final against Sligo, the Ballintubber clubman conceded that he didn't see anything revolutionary from Mayo during the league or any fresh faces that can make the ultimate difference.
He's adamant that their current squad, with a few minor technical and tactical advances, can get over the line despite the absence of a marquee forward and expects them to advance via the front door and avenge last year's shock defeat to Galway, should they defeat the Yeats men.
"If you had a top-level Pádraic Joyce or a Peter Canavan, that when a team was playing badly and he gets very little ball he can still get a high percentage of scores from shots, that obviously helps," he said.
"Mayo have a lot of good players who mightn't be as celebrated as some of those fellas but if you look back through those games, the replay last year and back over the years, I don't think you could just pin it directly on there not being a marquee forward.
"It's can they win two more kick-outs? Can they reduce the amount of frees they gave away in the scoring zone by two? Can they make sure their handpass completion is five per cent higher? It reduces the opposition having one or two shots and they get one or two extra. So there's other ways of getting there if you don't have loads of brilliant forwards, there are other ways of getting there where Mayo will be looking to get something new this year."
Horan, who has turned his hand to the small ball and is now managing Turloughmore's senior hurlers in Galway, believes the fallout from the revelations of former joint-managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes will have been "quickly moved on from" and he hopes to see a ruthlessness to their play in bigger games this season.
"They need to look at how they can boss games for longer when they get their period on top, how they can be more ruthless with that time by getting more scores, increase your confidence and decrease the opposition.
"I think that time Mayo are on top is a little too short sometimes. They need to see how they can be more imposing on the top teams for longer. They are looking at things to improve and get better. I met Andy Moran a few days ago and the energy was radiating off him, and enthusiasm, and ready to go.
"He's looking at every place he can possibly get around the world to get ideas and things that can help him get better because he knows he's getting a little bit older and he's tweaking things all the time. That's the way those guys are operating. They are looking for little bits and pieces wherever they can get it to get better."