Horan targets Gilroy's template to Sam success
THE Saturday Night Special in Castlebar is Mayo v Dublin -- a tasty treat for the anticipated crowd of over 10,000 fans who will watch the Allianz NFL Division 1 clash.
And at the centre of the action will be the rival managers, James Horan of Mayo and Dublin's Pat Gilroy.
The two men have many similarities. For a start, they're both 40 years old, they each work with high-profile companies -- Horan with Coca-Cola, Gilroy with Dalkia, and they both played in All-Ireland finals in the '90s.
The Dubs boss has, of course, the experience of having managed the first Dublin team to bring Sam back to the capital after a 16-year gap.
The two men have a remarkably similar approach to management, and they've both invested heavily in utilising every aspect of modern sports science and psychology.
While Horan (right) has only one year under his belt, and Gilroy is starting his fourth campaign, they each appreciated from the start of their reign how important it was to deal with the hype that can reach hysterical levels when Mayo or the Dubs are nearing the business end of the season.
Mayo went into their championship games with 2010 winners Cork (quarter-final) and then Kerry in the semi-final with quiet confidence.
A fairytale conclusion would have been Mayo following on the victory over Cork with wins over Kerry and Dublin -- but the name is James Horan, not James Bond.
Another parallel between Horan and Gilroy is their appreciation of the need to bring order and structure to the set-up of their teams, particularly in relation to defending well.
Horan doesn't want to do away with Mayo's prowess up front, particularly as he has some talented forwards, including Cillian O'Connor, Young Player of the Year and Mayo Senior Player of the Year for 2011.
Defensively, it's a different story. Mayo conceded an average of 17 points per league game last year and, as the Dubs have shown, leakage at the back can so often undo good work in attack.
A year into his team-building, the Mayo manager has set the bar high for himself, but that's the way he wants it.
The 2011 return of the FBD League, Connacht SFC title and reaching the last four in the All-Ireland series represented a very good debut season.
Now, after retaining the FBD League, Horan also emulates Gilroy by targeting a serious league challenge to set up the Mayo men for a serious assault on the championship.
Said Horan: "If you look at the All-Ireland champions over the past 10 years, they've all had a major league.
"It's quite evident that the league is now a serious competition and it tells teams where they're at, so we want to stay in contention for the league as long as we possibly can this year.
"We'll be putting out the strongest team we have for each game. Last year during the league, we didn't get the consistency or the step-by-step improvement that we were looking for.
"As a team, we conceded too many goals. I think we conceded the most goals in Division 1. That knocked us back a little bit... This year we want to be very competitive; an attacking team, but be rock-solid at the back. That's something we've been working on."
Mayo have started well, beating Laois in O'Moore Park, but a Dublin side wounded by defeat to Kerry will require a higher level of performance.