Horan: 'If we play well, it doesn't matter what London do'
Whatever James Horan achieves as Mayo manager, he will always remember the day they almost got caught out by London.
In his first championship outing as Mayo boss, in 2011, his side needed extra-time to escape from Ruislip with their Connacht championship campaign still intact. Horan and Mayo would probably not be where they are today if Trevor Mortimer and Kevin McLoughlin hadn't kicked late points to force another 20 minutes.
He cashed in his 'get out of jail free' card that day. An underprepared and naive Mayo were bullied by London then and ahead of their first meeting since, Horan was anxious to point out the physical edge to Paul Coggins' side.
"They are competitive. They are a physical team, there is no doubt about that," said Horan (below), who is hoping to lead Mayo to three Connacht titles in a row on Sunday.
"They will obviously think they rattled us over in Ruislip and they will want to build on that and the things that worked in that game. They'll certainly try and have a robust encounter with us.
"They have a very good manager who'll have lots of plans to try and undo us, but we'll just work away on our own thing."
Mayo's "own thing" has developed quite a bit since the early days of Horan's tenure. Gone is the nice, dinky forward play laced with platitudes of what could have been. In its place is a tackle-hungry beast intent on racking up wins. And Horan hints that this has come about since their All-Ireland final defeat to Donegal last year.
"We put a lot of emphasis on tackling, because tackling is a skill and ultimately we needed to," he said. "We were probably conceding too many fouls. We feel that we are making very, very good progress. We do a lot of work on it, make sure we do it within the rules.
"We feel we can turn over teams with the tackling ability that we have."
And while Horan admits that he is a little surprised to be meeting the Exiles in the Connacht final instead of Sligo or Leitrim, old lessons learned from Ruislip means complacency will not be an issue.
"We may reference it but there won't be much focus on it, because to a lot of members on the team it is still very dear to their heart," he admitted. "There is probably no need to go back over old ground there. Look, it is well chronicled at this stage.
"The players are very aware that if the preparation isn't right and everything that goes into preparing for a game isn't spot on, then you can struggle. That occasion was a key learner for us. We've certainly kicked on since then.
"The team are smart. They have watched the games, they'll read the press, but they are a really smart bunch of guys that are just working on getting themselves right. They know if individually that we get ourselves right and play well, it doesn't really matter what London do or don't do.
"It's our game and our focus and that's where we are. Am I surprised to be facing London? I suppose a little, yeah. When the Connacht championship draw was made, a lot of people told me it was the toughest draw we could get.
"But they are there on absolute merit. The couple of championship wins, a bit of confidence... I'm sure it is going to be a great occasion for a lot of them."
After devouring Leitrim in the opening half of their replayed semi-final, London faded from the game and almost let their 14-point interval lead slip. Horan reckons that the Exiles' conditioning was probably a bit short of the required standard, but he also reckons they'll be better for their first provincial final on Sunday.
"Yeah, it would suggest that, I think it's fair to say. But I'm sure if London get into a lead, running out of a bit of juice won't stop them from hanging on to it," he said. "I'm sure, even since their first championship game, their strength and conditioning has improved significantly and they are doing a lot of work on it.
"It mightn't be as big a factor as people think. There is a lot to be said about passion and heart when the body gets tired. I'm sure they'll have ample juice to use.
"The approach we have taken over the last number of years is that we just make sure that we are right. For our preparation, Division 1, Division 4, whatever, it doesn't matter. It is just us preparing and doing our thing. Getting ourselves right, getting our head right, working on our skills, trying to be as sharp as we can.
"Then come the Connacht final, we play as well as we can. It really is that simple. That's the approach we always take, regardless of who we are playing."