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Cork should try wily Horan for media tips

THE media auditorium under the Hogan Stand has played host to some of the most coma-inducing events in the history of sports journalism. Manager after manager has come in and churned out the same meaningless patter, all aimed at revealing sweet FA about either the inner workings of the dressing-room or what the bainisteoir in really thinking.

Curiously, the same auditorium - all shiny new and pristine - was christened by the most explosive press conference this reporter has ever witnessed, in the incendiary aftermath of the 2006 International Rules series.

Such, eh, candour is rare in an arena where some managers strip-search every word before it leaves their mouth, for fear of offering psychological ammunition to all future opponents.

Then along came James Horan and, for a few mad minutes, it almost felt as if we'd been transported straight back in time to 2006.

You don't normally hear sports protagonists remain firmly on a war footing after the final whistle has sounded. The Mayo manager was one such soldier on Sunday evening.

By now, you have doubtless digested his excoriation of the Cork management team (partly aimed at Brian Cuthbert, but more especially at selector Ronan McCarthy) for the Rebels' pre-match highlighting of the alleged tactical fouling tendencies of the Mayo forward line.

Name-checking Cillian O'Connor and Kevin McLoughlin - as McCarthy did at Cork's quarter-final press night - was the source of his prodigious ire. Clearly, it was also the reason why the traditional post-match managerial handshake was shunned, and why Horan went on the post-match attack in response to a seemingly innocent and totally unrelated question about Mayo's character. The following edited highlights give you a flavour of his mood: "Disgraceful" ... "should be ashamed" ... "taking a player's character" ... "a new low" ... "unprecedented in Gaelic football".

Ah, but is it unprecedented?

As for name-checking a rival player, he too has some form ...

You may remember the bristling build-up to last year's All-Ireland quarter-final between Mayo and Donegal. Jim McGuinness (pictured, above) - who knows a thing or three about psychology - launched the first grenade when citing four Donegal concussions in three games as evidence of football's increasing physicality, adding: "We're in a very dangerous position. My biggest fear is a spinal injury or a neck injury."

Now, it just so happened his comments came eight days before their quarter-final date with a pretty physically imposing Mayo team.

Inevitably, you can guess one of the first questions asked at Mayo's quarter-final press conference, prompting Horan to describe Donegal as leaders on the physicality front.

"Donegal and their back-room team, they're competitive, they're All-Ireland champions," he noted. "Anything that'll give them an advantage, they'll try. Last year they mastered many new skills and brought football to a different level on many fronts … particularly in the area around physicality. They really ratcheted that up last year and put a lot of teams to the sword based on their strength, power and tackling. I don't know if any of ye have been at the end of a Michael Murphy tackle recently, but there's serious, serious physicality in that team."

Now, Donegal's captain might even take this as a back-handed compliment ... but was Horan not also using the media to alert the public (or maybe even a match referee) to the hard-tackling tendencies of the opposition?

A year earlier, ahead of Mayo's All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin, he had this to say about the appointment of referee Joe McQuillan: "There's a lot of commentary out there that he is very familiar with the Dublin set-up and, as you said, he refereed a lot of their A versus B games this year. But, look, we're happy with the referee that's appointed. There's a review committee there so if there was any questionable decisions, they'd review that. We just go with the referees that are there. I have a lot of Kerry friends from last year that weren't too happy with some of his decisions but sin scéal eile."

On Sunday, he was specifically asked about his prior name-checking of the Cavan referee. "I haven't heard anyone mention players and specifically target players before," he replied. "I mentioned Joe McQuillan before because he had reffed A versus B games for Dublin, it's as simple as that. I think it is a fair thing, all I was looking for was fairness. But to target players' character, I think, is just disgraceful."

Whatever about being a disgrace, it was yet another example of GAA managements seeking to manipulate public opinion - and, more crucially, referees. As 'tactical fouls' go, it was a pretty crude example from Cork that probably backfired ... maybe next time they should seek out their cap-wearing nemesis from the west for some friendly advice!


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