Working in Horan's shadows holds no fear for Mayo joint boss Connelly
It's been a delicate few weeks for the Mayo management as they try to get their squad to reach their peak for Sunday's Connacht championship clash with Galway.
Without a game since April 5, Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes have had to content themselves with watching their rivals stretch their legs, test their systems and try out new strategies. Come throw-in on Sunday, Sligo footballers and Kilkenny's hurlers will be the only other idle counties in the country.
Of all years you think Mayo would have liked an early day out: a nice starter for ten in Gaelic Park or Ruislip. Instead the pressure to follow James Horan, the man that led Mayo to two All-Ireland finals and another two semi-finals in four years, has gradually ramped up.
Talk of winning five Connacht titles in a row is rampant, but Connelly shakes off that chat.
"They have done really, really well over the last four years, getting the final in 2011 and 2012. But at the same time we still haven't won a championship and every year the best team will get the trophy and we haven't been the best team.
"Obviously it brings its own pressures but these players have been together for the last four or five years. They are very ambitious, they are very experienced and they are very hungry for more success.
"You are playing Galway in the first round in Pearse Stadium, it is a huge game for players and supporters alike. It's very easy to build yourself up for that type of a game but the guys are very, very hungry for more success," said Connelly, who captained Mayo to within one step of Sam Maguire in 1996 and 97.
One significant trait of the Horan era was the vice-like grip Mayo held Galway in. In his time Mayo never lost to their great rivals. Their four league and championship meetings were won by a combined total of 38 points. The fact that Galway are now closing the gap has not been lost on Connelly who expects a massive test.
"Galway are a strong team. They have been developing over the last number of years. They have probably disappointed with the way they have performed in some of those games.
"But they have been developing a younger team. They have high-quality players throughout the pitch: Finian Hanley, the Corofin guys coming back after winning an All-Ireland club title with huge confidence. Damien Comer and Danny Cummins are playing very, very well at the moment in challenge games.
"It is going to be a huge battle we know that. But at the same time we know that if we play to the best of our potential that we can do well," said Connelly.
After some recent challenge matches, Mayo's last obstacle was their traditional A versus B game last Sunday. This game sees the second-string squad members tear into the starters with the aim of impressing for the last place or two. The definites often come out second best and looking average, but reports suggest everyone came through unscathed.
"Looking at the team training sessions and the hunger that is there and the intensity that is within the training sessions at the moment, I don't think there is going to be any complacency.
"The fear is always there that maybe you wouldn't focus as much as you would going out against hot favourites.
"But the way I see it at the moment with the intensity that is in the squad training sessions, I don't think there will be too much of that."
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