Horan content to place free duties at goalkeeper's feet
JAMES Horan has denied there is a free-taking crisis in Mayo, and says goalkeepers taking shots from placed kicks is destined to become the norm in Gaelic football.
The Mayo senior team manager has revealed that they have used up to five different players in free-taking practice in advance of Sunday's Connacht final with Roscommon at Hyde Park.
They had four different free-takers in their close shave with London in the first round and in the semi-final win against Galway, Horan brought up his goalkeeper Robert Hennelly to convert a long-distance free and a '45' on another day when Mayo's free-taking form could be described as patchy.
With Conor Mortimer absent, the revolving door of placed kickers has focused attention on Mayo's dead-ball options, but the unflappable Horan insists there is no issue and is happy to see the burden shared.
"We'd a lot of free-takers and there's been a lot made about that, but there's a reason and a cause for everything," he said.
"Against London, Alan Dillon, our first-choice free-taker, was concussed; our second free-taker, Alan Freeman, had an injection in his foot at half-time; and our third, Aidan Campbell, was taken off; so it was just one of those games.
"Against Galway we weren't great, but players are working hard and we have four or five guys kicking frees every day, and kicking a certain amount of balls every day trying to get the routine and technique right," he explained.
One of the novel features of the football championship so far has been the sight of goalkeepers coming forward to kick '45s'.
Dublin were the first high-profile team to start the experiment last year with Stephen Cluxton coming upfield to strike them and it became standard practice in their march to this year's Leinster crown -- the Parnells clubman scored six points in three games.
In the Connacht semi-final, Galway's Adrian Faherty and Mayo's Robert Hennelly were brought upfield to make scoring attempts, with Faherty again heavily involved in Galway's free-taking against Meath last weekend.
Though the sight of hurling 'keepers coming up to strike penalties is a regular occurrence, the policy of football goalies coming out to hit '45s' and long-distance frees has not gone down well with the purists. But for Horan (below), it is merely part of football's evolutionary process and a direct result of the fact that modern players are encouraged to speed up the game by kicking frees from their hands rather than off the ground. This has led to a decrease in accuracy among outfield players taking placed kicks off the deck.
"You don't have as many guys kicking off the ground as you used to since the rule was changed and I think that's just an evolutionary thing about where the game is. Your goalkeeper is still the only guy who has to kick it off the ground," explained Horan, who in his own Mayo days was a free-taker along with Maurice Sheridan.
"It doesn't matter who scores. What you are looking at doing is getting your best long-distance free-taker taking your long-distance frees and if that's the goalie then so be it."
The free-taking is destined to remain a talking point for Mayo, especially with Roscommon boasting a dead-ball king in Donie Shine, who kicked an injury-time free to win the Connacht final against Sligo last summer.
Mayo have made life difficult for themselves against London and Galway and Horan isn't expecting anything easy on Sunday.
He has built a new team and tried to address confidence levels that were left fragile after last year -- but he is confident Mayo are progressing.
"Bit by bit, we are getting there and when we get things right we'll be very competitive," he added.