Maurice Horan is in a unique position ahead of tomorrow evening’s qualifier clash between Limerick and Mayo in that he has good insight into both camps.
The Ballinrobe native is a former player for both sides, was Limerick manager from 2011 to 2013, and as recently as 2016 was involved in the backroom team of the Mayo footballers, so there are not many around with greater knowledge ahead of the Gaelic Grounds clash.
Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser this week Horan said he believed that no matter what Limerick throw at Mayo tomorrow evening it will not be good enough: “My biggest fear is that Mayo will give Limerick a hiding and set football in the county back five years.”
When he was involved with the Limerick footballers they were challenging the status quo in Munster and attempting to win a first provincial title since the early days of the GAA. There was a single mindedness about football in the county at the time to win that elusive title, and he sees similarities between Limerick and Mayo in that regard, albeit for Mayo it is going for the ultimate prize in football.
“I see an awful lot of similarities between Mayo and Limerick and that’s definitely one of them. Both have this drive and durability to keep coming back and coming back. The problem in Limerick is that the conveyor belt doesn’t run probably as smoothly as in Mayo. You have a lot of talented sportsmen in Limerick and they’ll play but inevitably they’ll be drawn to hurling first and maybe even rugby or soccer.”
“A parallel I would draw between Mayo and Limerick, especially in the last few years, is Limerick could have a strong, and when I say strong, championship I mean they could take a scalp or have a good run but they find the league campaigns to be tough going because they find the pool of players that they draw upon isn’t particularly deep and we were probably all watching through our hands last weekend when this new look Kerry team put up 32 points on Clare, and casually I just looked at the phone and I realised only three players on that Kerry team played in 2011 when Mayo lost in that semifinal, yet the backbone of the Mayo team is still nine or 10 of those players.”
The Mayo support base have been happy since the draw for the first round of qualifiers was made and it paired them with a team who finished third from bottom in division four of the league, however Horan sees the game as an attractive one for the Treaty County but one Mayo should win if they get things right: “I think Limerick would have wanted a tough draw, a kind of an attractive draw but Mayo might be a beast too far.
"Saying that, Mayo still have to get their own house in order, there seems to be a few injuries ahead of Saturday. When you pare things back and look at it analytically it hasn’t been a good season so far for Mayo. We haven’t won many matches, haven’t got a flow going, and have not had many really convincing performances.
"The fact that Mayo got Limerick is a good thing in that they are a team we are expected to beat and will beat, but Mayo will be looking to build momentum in each one of these games so this Limerick game isn’t just about winning, it's about building momentum.
"The last two first round qualifiers Mayo played against Fermanagh and Derry were like walking a tightrope with barbed wire on it. Mayo need to approach this game with intent and be ready for it regardless of the competition. Another stumbling performance doesn’t do the confidence too good.”
This is the third year in a row Mayo will have to go the backdoor route, after successful qualifier campaigns in 2016 and 2017 saw them reach the September showpiece against Dublin, as a member of the backroom team in 2016 Horan is well placed to give an insight into the mindset of Stephen Rochford and thinks he thrives in knockout football when Mayo are under the cosh: “I’ve never seen it in another manager but Stephen’s ability to compartmentalise things. They might take a rattle in a performance against Derry and everyone is writing them off but they can follow that up and dominate Clare after a rusty opening 10 minutes and build momentum.
"Stephen seems to be able to ignore all the negatives and I think for a team as high profile as Mayo that is a strength you need to have. Other managers, I’ve seen it up close and am probably guilty of it myself, you can take it too personally. It’s a strength of Stephens to be able to put it to one side and say job done, next game.”