Tuesday 24 October 2017

We just weren't going to lose - Mayo's James Horan

Mayo manager James Horan
Mayo manager James Horan
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

A tale of two extraordinary comebacks, both from five points down. Which cliff face had fewer footholds to tread? Which had the steeper gradient?

The one hampered by the dismissal of arguably the game's most prolific linebreaker that took just 10 inspiring third-quarter minutes to wipe out?

Or the frantic finale, engineered by one of the forgotten giants, that took half that time against a ticking clock?

This game is supposed to have left Kieran Donaghy and his like broken down by the side of the road. Out of gas.

But after a couple of summers of relative inactivity, bit parts here and there, he stepped back into the mainstream with a couple of mighty catches that were reminiscent of his wrecking-ball act in the early stages of the 2006 All-Ireland final.

Donaghy set up 1-1 out of an unanswered 1-2 from the 66th minute on and Kerry survived. But Mayo's spirit and heart seems infinite now.

No doubt they can both point to feats of heroism that delivered such an epic contest. They are more likely, though, to reflect on errors and flaws throughout.

Why did Kerry send so many kick-outs long and straight after Lee Keegan's departure, when they could so easily have retained possession by liberating an extra man to pop them short to? Why were Mayo so conservative in the first half when it is not their natural game? Keith Higgins and Tom Cunniffe swarming James O'Donoghue with so many others planked around them?

James Horan is not one to dwell too long on negatives, however, and was prepared to acknowledge a third-quarter performance as good as anything under his command, given the circumstances.

"It's up there," said Horan when pressed on its status over the last four years. "Probably as good as any team has played. Fellas just stood up. It was exhilarating to watch. We had guys who weren't just going to lose.


"This team, over four years, has just kept going all the time. What they showed today, you cannot but admire."

They had been tentative in the first half, a little perplexed even by the Kerry set-up.

"We were a bit in no man's land with one or two of the things that they did," Horan conceded. "It took us a while to figure that out. Michael Geaney was getting a lot of ball in the first half. But we sorted that out.

"Sometimes when you're not playing the game that you (normally) play, you can be thinking about it too much and get caught out. That seemed to happen to us a little in the first half.

"We were slow, running into tackles, trying to handpass the ball and loop it over guys. We were just off it a little bit. And it could have cost us. I think we probably should have won it but we could have lost it."

Full-back Ger Cafferkey had come off with cramp just as Donaghy was cutting loose but Horan disputed whether endurance had been an issue.

"I don't think so but we had 14 men since the 29th minute. I think there was one team that was strong out there in the second half," he countered.

Horan had come to the interview room an hour after conclusion and, after a video review of Lee Keegan's red-card incident (below), his opinion was clear.

"To me it's not a sending-off. No way. He was being held onto. It was like a shrug to shake him off more than a kicking action, I would say.

"I'm not blaming the referee. You can see how it would be seen. But to me, if we're getting straight red cards for that, the game is going down."

Horan confirmed that Mayo would be challenging David Coldrick's decision during the week and would also be seeking a seven-day deferral of the semi-final to allow Croke Park to host it.

In the opposite camp, Eamonn Fitzmaurice was a little less complimentaryabout his side.

"We were lucky in the end, we know that. It was really a case of snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat. We sat off them, we sat back, which wasn't something we planned to do," he said.

"We made it a lot harder for ourselves than we needed to do. We've things to be working on and plenty areas to be improving on.

"We showed great character late in the game to come back into it. But you'd question why we were in that position in the first place."

There was much frustration at failing to protect such a commanding position early in the second half after James O'Donoghue put them 0-10 to 0-5 clear.

"There was lots of things that were frustrating. We've a lot of things to work on. We've real context now this week to get our teeth stuck in to something and see where we can improve," added Fitzmaurice.

Donaghy's impact has certainly given them food for thought for a more sustained spell the next day.

"We had it at the back of our heads that we would be able to use him inside if we needed it, particularly late in the game. And we did need it. He was fantastic when he went in there," said the manager.

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