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Horan: We'd love a Kerry shootout

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Mayo manager James Horan. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

Mayo manager James Horan. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

Mayo manager James Horan. Picture: David Maher/Sportsfile.

JAMES HORAN claims Mayo "love shootouts" - primarily because they generally win them - but he still wants his defence to stop leaking goals as they prepare to face Kerry and the in-form James O'Donoghue next Sunday.

Striking the correct balance between gung-ho attack and solidity at the back will feature high on Horan's blueprint as he seeks to lead Mayo to a third consecutive All-Ireland SFC final.

Standing in the way are Kerry, so often Mayo's Croke Park nemesis, but their manager instantly dismisses any talk of this so-called 'hex' impacting on the current dressing-room. Instead, they are more consumed with controlling the controllables - and that starts with defence.

FLOODGATES

During their eight-match run to the league semi-finals, Mayo amassed an eye-catching 15 goals - but coughed up 16 at the other end. They shored up this problem in Connacht, conceding just one goal (to Roscommon) in three outings ... but having contained Cork to 0-9 in the first 50 minutes of their All-Ireland quarter-final, the floodgates then threatened to open as the Rebels hit them for 2-6 over the last 20 minutes.

Just as well, then, that a team allegedly devoid of 'marquee forwards' keeps doing enough at the other end - in their last three All-Ireland quarter-finals they have scored 3-18 against Down (2012), 4-17 against Donegal (2013) and 1-19 against Cork (earlier this month).

Maintaining that strike-rate in September has been the hard part for Horan - but first they must do it against another team built to attack.

"They (Kerry) have a couple of form guys, they are a very good footballing team," Horan surmised, speaking at Mayo's semi-final press night in Ballina. "Gone a little bit more defensive than they were, but they are fundamentally an attacking-based team - which is what we are."

Cue a question about Mayo liking shootouts?

"We are looking to score as much as we can when we have the ball," he replied. "When we don't have the ball, we are looking to win it as a high up the field as we possibly can - that's fundamentally our philosophy.

"Do we need to stop conceding as many goals? Of course we do, absolutely.

"We have just come through a quarter-final where, for the third quarter-final in-a-row, we scored 20 scores or more. So shootouts - we absolutely love shootouts. But do we need to look at our defensive (side) and try reduce the amount we concede? Yes."

GRAIL

There's a perception that it's "now or never" for this particular team in pursuit of the holy grail; and equally a suspicion that after winning four Connachts on the spin, while losing back-to-back All-Irelands, their manager won't come back for a fifth year if they fall short again.

Yet Horan doesn't believe his panel is nearing the end of its life cycle.

"We are still improving, we are not close to peaking yet," he insisted. "A lot of our guys are 23, 24 - not quite at peak yet. We have some guys up around the 30s ... but this team will always look to develop, always look to improve.

"I'm not sure how the life cycle of a team works, to be honest, because we are just driving on regardless of what height, size, age, type ... that's the philosophy we have."


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