A sort of homecoming as Horan returns

GAA: Comment

Back in green and red: James Horan has returned for a second coming as Mayo senior manager. Photo: Sportsfile

Back in green and red: James Horan has returned for a second coming as Mayo senior manager. Photo: Sportsfile

He may not have said it at the time, but to those who were huddled in a kitchen under the Mackey Stand in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on a Saturday evening in late August 2014 - a distinct feeling arose that something was about to come to an end - as James Horan held a press conference after Mayo's All Ireland semi-final replay defeat to Kerry.

Not long after that night, the end did indeed arrive - when Horan announced to his team he was stepping away from the position he had held since late 2010 - a run that had plenty of twists and turns along the way, some great highs - and while they were never real lows - disappointments too.

The feeling was always there that the Ballintubber man would be back some day to run the rule over Mayo football - and that time has come now, four championship summers later as Mayo still remain without the prize the county craves most.

While he will naturally have an ambition to finally get Mayo over that line, Horan also knows that his return is not about having one more swing at the big one, with a crop of players he moulded and shaped into the annual contenders they are today, from the pits of despair in Pearse Park in Longford in the summer of 2010. Because it is about much more than that - and not just about next year. It is about the year after that and the year after that - and on and on.

Giving his first interview on Mayo GAA TV since being ratified as the new 'old' boss last Thursday night, Horan came across as a man very much looking to the future; and with a four-year deal in place - he also sounded like someone who is in it for the long haul - which is good. What Mayo need right now and into the next few years is solidity - and also patience. Things might not go to plan right away, they rarely do in any walk of life - but patience is especially needed.

Horan and his backroom team are now busy arranging for trials to get up and running in the next few weeks, after the new manager announced that a total of 100 players are up for consideration, who will be given at least two games each - to determine whether they have the potential to make the grade.

Potential is the key word at play here. The days when a player could easily step up from the club game and slot into a senior inter-county set up like Mayo, are long gone. There are of course exceptions to the rule, there always are, but these are few and far between.

At the same time the standard of the inter-county game has improved enormously in the last decade and much of Mayo's elevation to this level of play is down to the work that Horan and his various backroom teams did in his first stint in the job. It takes time to develop potential to that level.

And there is still plenty of potential to work with from the the 2016 All Ireland u21 winning team. Probably the one definite starter for Mayo every day, is Diarmuid O'Connor, when fit. Stephen Coen, Eoin O'Donoghue and Conor Loftus have also all been major players in the Mayo squads over the past number of years - but it is only O'Connor who is nailed on to play every time.

There are a number of other talented members in that squad - along with the u20 team - who got to this year's All Ireland final - wanting to stake their claim for a spot. The same goes for the many talented club players, who have lit up the championships locally this summer - and feel they have what it takes to reach the next stage.

Horan has spoken about being a more hands-on coach this time around and - when speaking about getting stuck into the nitty gritty of the day-to-day on-field work - anticipation was evident in his expression. He also spoke of the coaching revolution that has occurred in Mayo over the past number of years - and how he is looking forward to working with those who helped make this turnaround possible.

So this is the long- term thinking that Mayo supporters need to be aware of and to remember down the line - if things go a little awry at first next year.

Everyone wants to see the ultimate accolade achieved but - as Horan said in his first press conference as Mayo manager just around this time eight years ago - what it is really all about - is making Mayo consistently competitive.

After that - we'll just have to take our chances.

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