Thursday 17 October 2019

James Horan has returned to a more 'positive' game

James Horan admits he couldn’t resist a second term as Mayo manager. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
James Horan admits he couldn’t resist a second term as Mayo manager. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Colm Keys

His time away from the game has been relatively short but James Horan detects a more positive air around football from the strategy of containment that seemed to coincide with his previous four-year stint as Mayo manager.

Horan helped to deliver a first national senior title for Mayo in 18 years when they landed the league last month after a campaign that saw greater waves of attacking energy.

It is the essential difference that he senses now.

"I do think it's a bit more positive from what I remember. Maybe that's just the way I want to see it," he admitted. "I remember playing a couple of games and watching a couple of games and the amount of attacks that teams had were not enough to win games. There was a containment and trying to win games on 11 and 12 points, I don't think you are going to win many games that way.

"I think there is a realisation and you see teams that are trying to push more and press on opposition kick-outs and that gives you a starting base for being higher up the pitch.


"The game is getting back up into a strong position. Hopefully, that continues," he said at yesterday's Connacht GAA Championship launch at the headquarters in Bekan, outside Ballyhaunis.

From a preparation aspect, there are greater technological tools available to streamline individual training better but the dressing-room he walked out of in Limerick after Mayo's 2014 All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to Kerry is not much better than the one he walked into last autumn for the beginning of his second term.

"The last dressing-room I was in with those guys was down in Limerick so that was an interesting dressing-room. They have a couple of years since of ups and downs. It was very different. Some guys were more vocal than I remember, other guys were less. It is funny how people change during that time. Overall, the commitment and the motivation of these guys is phenomenal.

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"A lot of the principles are the same, of what you're trying to do and how you're trying to go about it."

But the issue of greater of demands on players is something he doesn't go with. "I've had this debate many times. I know young swimmers in Castlebar that are spending more time in the pool than inter-county players are on the field. I know an amount of cyclists, middle-aged men, who are spending more time on their bikes, and no one knows or cares they are doing it."

He could have continued on the less taxing punditry route and remained at a distance from Mayo but the desire to coach and nurture improvement was too easy to succumb to.

"Where I get my kicks is working with guys who are highly motivated, that want to try and improve. I love doing that side of the coaching things, just seeing where you can go with guys and seeing what is possible. That buzz, I always get a great kick out of that. I wasn't in any particular rush or I didn't have any action chart of when and where I would get back involved. The way things happened, I was delighted to get the opportunity again to work with these guys and the newer guys coming through. It wasn't by design."

Lee Keegan's comments last week about the absence of alcohol bans in their set-up struck a chord and Horan admitted it wasn't something that featured in a conversation with players.

"If you need that sort of stance or position, I'm not quite sure where the motivation of the players is at. I'm lucky enough that the guys that I'm working with, this stuff never comes up. It genuinely doesn't. You are not going to train every day or prepare your body every day and then do daft stuff. You'll naturally or organically fall off a panel if that stuff is happening. The group will cast that type of thing aside. It takes its own course."

Mayo depart for New York on Thursday week, taking in a training session in Abbotstown on the Wednesday night beforehand with plans to remain on in the days after their Gaelic Park match for an extended training camp.

Horan oversaw their last trip to New York which turned chaotic with logistics and wires crossed over fundraising events and the players' attendance at them but this time he is confident that it will be better managed.

"Best-made plans and all that. Just the logistics of getting over there and waiting for a bus and waiting to get some food, it had been quite a number of hours before we'd eaten, when you take plane food into account and all that sort of stuff. So it's small stuff like that but it can snowball a small bit. We've gone into good detail to make sure they're right this time."

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