Sunday 19 November 2017

Long wait for glory is a bit of wind at our backs – James Horan

Horan Boss says preparation key to ending Mayo 'curse'

Manager James Horan celebrates Mayo's semi-final win over Tyrone
Manager James Horan celebrates Mayo's semi-final win over Tyrone
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Last night, TG4 broadcast the documentary 'Mayo, God Help Us' which shone a light on Mayo's inability to close an All-Ireland final deal in seven attempts since their last triumph in 1951.

It explored the myth about the curse placed upon the county for an alleged lack of respect shown for a funeral by the team as they made their way through Foxford with the Sam Maguire on their way home after the '51 final.

In the documentary, two of the surviving members of that team, Padraig Carney and Paddy Prendergast, scoff at the idea of the curse, while others query whether there was even a funeral in Foxford on that day at all.

Perhaps it isn't the curse that Mayo manager James Horan is specifically referencing when he talks of "the rubbish around Mayo football". But romanticism cuts no ice with the pragmatic 41-year-old.

"A lot of stuff is talked, a lot of this, that and the other. We looked at where we were at when we took this on," he recalled.

Rubbish

"We certainly cut away any of the rubbish that was associated with the inter-county team. We got guys that were interested in working, in putting their heads down, in being as good as they could be and playing for Mayo, and I think we are seeing some of the results of that."

Yet the past is something they can't, he acknowledges, "ignore" either. If anything, the absence of an All-Ireland title in 62 years is something that gives them "a bit of wind at our back" as they finalise their preparations for a second successive final this week.

"You don't ignore it. There is a lot of commentary on it. It is not something that particularly bothers me or this team, I can safely say," he said.

"We lost a final (2012), we didn't play as well as we could have and that is why we lost it. So there are no romantic notions around that.

"As regards the amount of finals (lost), 1951 is the last time we won it but we genuinely don't see that as a pressure. If anything, it is a bit of wind at our back. It is not something that unduly bothers me."

If one final defeat does bother him, it is 1997, his third and last as a player after the draw and replay in 1996, the last time a team lost two successive football finals, and there are lessons now for Horan.

"I thought that we could have been better prepared. We were well prepared but we could have been better prepared," he said.

"So that is certainly something that I take into my management of an inter-county team. You have got to be the best-prepared team there, or as good as you possibly can prepare for that day."

Horan has built a reputation for straight talking and doesn't resist an opportunity to accentuate the positive points to his team.

The improvement brought about over his three years at the helm has generated a self-confidence that was missing after a poor 2010 campaign and the knock-on effect was a near catastrophe that almost struck in Ruislip in Horan's first championship match in charge. Holding their nerve there has stood to them since in difficult situations.

"They are a confident crew now," acknowledged Horan. "But when I took over, our first championship game was over in London, and in the heat of battle there were memories of Sligo and Longford from the year before there.

"So confidence was a bit rattled at that stage but there is nothing like grinding out that win, and being four points down against Galway at half-time in the next game and five points down at half-time in the game after that against Roscommon.

"We were in an awful lot of dark places that year and we came through them all. When you start winning games like that and you keep tweaking and improving things, then your confidence grows from that.

"We have been on a very steady upward curve since 2010. So confidence is high, and deservingly so because of the ability we have, but mainly because of the preparation work that we have been doing over the last three years."

A second successive All-Ireland final appearance can bring about a sense of entitlement and even complacency but it's a trap he doesn't want his players falling into.

"That is one way you could look at it. You think, you are there again, this is going to be your year and maybe some things get missed out in the interim. We certainly are very comfortable and confident with how training is going and where we are as a team and we can't wait to get cracking on September 22."

Mayo have six new faces from the starting team last year – Rob Hennelly, Tom Cunniffe, Chris Barrett, Seamus O'Shea, Alan Freeman and Andy Moran – and Horan is quick to point out that they were among the best performers against Tyrone.

Strong

"Even throughout last year a lot of those guys were coming very strong. They had injuries, but we had a very good idea that a lot of those would be big players for us this year. Tom Cunniffe was away last year and we knew that when he came back that he would be a good addition so we knew that there was additional strength there.

"Cathal Carolan has been a find this year and is doing very well and is getting better and better.

Mayo have posted an average of just less than 18 points (71 points in total) from their last four games (three league and one All-Ireland semi-final) against Dublin over the last two seasons and Horan feels they are opponents his team have enjoyed playing against.

"We certainly tend to play well against them. Maybe that is the similar styles of both teams – a free-flowing, attacking game which is high tempo and that is a style we are very comfortable with. We are happy to play there. We have had a couple of good wins over them but they have won the last couple, so it will be interesting to see what happens."

And he has warned of the dangers of missing early tackles against the Dubs and how it is more costly than it is against any other team.

"If you miss a tackle against Dublin or you are out of position, they can attack very quickly and they can get an overlap very quickly and if they get any sniff, they are gunning for goal.

"We just have to defend well, keep our shape and hope that we stay in the game defensively."

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