Horan certain Mayo can rise from ashes
SAME old, same old. It was an all too familiar feeling for Mayo people present at Markievicz Park last summer for the Connacht championship defeat to Sligo.
When the pressure came on, their side crumbled and good players made bad decisions followed by worse ones.
Mayo came out in lumps at the thought of the qualifiers and soon after, they lost to Longford to compound their most miserable championship performance in living memory.
It was no surprise when manager John O'Mahony stepped down. The man once seen as the missing link in the chain, he opened the way for new depths of mourning in Mayo before the job was put out to tender.
The county board followed the growing trend of appointing recently retired players to the helm when they opted for the young, but inexperienced (at county level) James Horan ahead of former Dublin manager Tommy Carr.
Horan steered Ballintubber to a first county title earlier this year and has just run trials over two weekends that featured players from 29 different clubs. He has managed clubs for the past four years in Mayo, including one season at intermediate level, and he's also played in the junior grade before retiring.
All of Mayo's 2010 panel have made themselves available, meaning Horan has a handle on what he has at his disposal.
"We have a good idea of what's out there and we're trying to find out exactly what we have. We've done all we can at this stage (with the collective training ban), so we'll use the FBD League to find out a little bit more," he said.
In Mayo, they say he's the first former county forward to be appointed since Gerald Courell and Jackie Carney steered the ship to All-Ireland success in 1950 and 1951, but the double All Star winner won't entertain any talk like that.
"It's just too soon to say where they are at," he said, when asked to rate the current Mayo side. "You can only start to make that judgment when they are out on the field. Last year was difficult for them, I'm sure, but I get the sense that they are looking forward to a fresh set-up and a different outlook.
"We overdo the highs and the lows in this county. We're going to keep things simple and try and create an environment where they can get the best out of themselves."
Horan has carefully selected each member of his nine-strong backroom team; some of those will assist the Dublin-based players in their preparation, while others are Horan's trusted lieutenants.
Selector Martin Connolly is a well-regarded GAA coach and a club All-Ireland winner with Thomond College in 1977; James Nallen is Mayo's most capped player; while Ed Coughlan will look after strength and conditioning, although Horan hinted at a slightly different emphasis this season.
"You're only as good as the people around you and those guys' records speak for themselves really. Coughlan is very practical and pragmatic about his stuff and he's aware of the importance of doing the basic skills right," he said.
Ballintubber did the basics well on their way to the county title -- they worked hard, defended in numbers and kept possession when they got it -- but Horan won't necessarily impose the same game on the Mayo squad, although there are a few core tenets he won't compromise on.
"I'm a believer in making it as difficult for the opposition to score as possible. And it's also very important that players hold on to the ball in attack until the right shot is on, that's just decision-making -- but we'll have to see what we have before we decide what exactly we are going to do," he said.
There's little time to waste. Subject to planning permission being granted, they are due to play against All-Ireland finalists Down under lights in Castlebar on February 5. And if, as expected, they beat London in the Connacht championship, they'll be playing Galway for a place in the final in June.
"I'm looking forward to it. We have had some good underage teams, so the potential is there and there are good players in Mayo right now. I believe that," he added.
Meanwhile, Enda McNulty's Armagh career could be at an end after he was omitted from the county's panel for next year. Paul Kernan, Martin O'Rourke and Barry Shannon have also been left out after being part of the 2010 squad.