James Horan pitched up for his first round of full press duties as the new Mayo manager in Lough Lannagh on Thursday night just as the draw for next years football championship was taking place.
The Castlebar venue will be the new home of the Mayo GAA centre of excellence in a few years time and the Ballintubber man was forthright and engaging on a whole myriad of issues - such as what pulled him back into the job, what he sees his role being and how different that will be from last time around and what he has made of Mayo’s performances over the past number of years.
The championship draw what do you think of it?
“I haven’t even thought about it now, thinking about Roscommon in the first round of the league - that is more than enough for now.
“We have New York in the first game - that’ll be interesting, we might try and shoot out with David Brady’s little tour and see how it goes.
Is this a very different job this time in terms of where it was in 2010 - a different kind of a project almost?
“I think so, in 2010 when I took over it was a very young team, a very young management team, we didn’t know a lot of what lay in store and we had to suck it and see along the way - we were operating on blind for a lot of it until you figured it out and experienced it.
“It is different this time for myself and if you look at the experience of the playing years, there is eight or ten years of playing at the highest level and that is a huge amount of knowledge to have and hopefully I have learned something in the four years involved and the four years off and we can work together on that, from that regard it is very different.
“But how we play and what we do a lot of that is based on to very familiar principals and approaches, but I am just looking forward to it now and getting cracking on it.
Was it a hard decision to put your name back in the hat?
“I love coaching and working with guys who are committed and ambitions, that is something I love doing. I worked with a lot of these guys before, so you have a good idea of wha will be involved so that side of it you think about it.
“I love being involved in football so that was a pretty easy decision, but then you have to factor in the whole life involvement with work and family - so there is a lot more planning involved in that side of things that you have to get right. Once you get that clear in your head it was a hard, but easy decision in the end.
From what you have said already it looks like you will be taking a more hands on role on the pitch and step away from the behind the scenes things that would have taken up a lot of your time before
“Definitely trying to change that, I am lucky enough to have a guy involved with me this time - Joe Doyle from Westport who likes to call himself a negotiator, he will be doing an awful lot of stuff off the field and there is a huge amount to do.
“When you think of a squad of 40 to 45 players between the squad and development squads and everything that goes with that, there is a huge amount of general day to day stuff that needs to be done and it can be huge.
“If you are trying to do that and be on the field and watching how every player is and the mood they are in and the body language is and there is ten of 15 things coming at you, it is hard to do either right. We are just trying to divide that a little bit as much as we can.
“Martin Barrett, Daniel Forde, myself and Martin McIntyre we are going to try and be on the field working as much as we can. You have the players for about two hours on the field when you really think about it, when you take in breaks, warm-ups and cool downs out of it, so we have to use it and with the geographical challenge we have with Dublin (based players ) we have to maximise that time.
“We are looking to have a couple of coaches who can break out into the optimum numbers where you can coach people and bring them back in and have various games and whatever that will optimise that and that is the challenge for us to try and (get over ) and that is why we are going this way.”
James Horan is looking forward to getting back on the training field coaching Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile
What did you make of Mayo last year?
"I thought, I suppose if you look at the league campaigns really they told an awful lot. League campaigns over the last number of years, Mayo have been on the ropes in an awful lot of the league games where games were you think they should do well or get a victory you haven’t got them and when backs were to the wall they got some of those victories it was very up and down like that, that is always difficult going into championship games if you haven’t got a level of performance of base line is steady and it is hard to develop some of the younger players through that when your backs are to the wall in leagues all the time when your pressure is on, so I think some of that spilt over into the championship and the pressure was on before you even played and I don’t think that helped.
“But you know the performances of Diarmuid O’Connor, Eoin O’Donoghue coming through and other young guys coming through offer real hope and there is a lot of guys out there and you see some of the teams coming through like Westport, Claremorris, Belmullet, Ballaghaderren some of the young players in those teams, I could name 12 of them that have a lot of talent and ability.
“Whether they play inter-county next year or not, but they might play 20 minutes in a game - they might not have the physicality for the full 70 but you just don’t know and that is the exciting thing some of these guys could flourish in an environment so you don’t know and I am looking forward to seeing that.
Do you find it difficult in terms that Mayo haven’t won a Connacht title since 2015, were they unlucky?
“I don’t think they were unlucky, I think the performances weren’t good enough particularly in Castlebar, just weren’t at the level that I think that team can play at for whatever the reason.
“You don’t know when your not involved, there could have been injuries to key players, you really don’t know, a couple of sendings off, the discipline in big moments probably cost us games, so there is a few things like that to look at. But Galway are a strong team as well no question about that, it is disappointing to not be competing for Connacht finals every year from a Mayo point of view.”
Has football changed in the four years you’ve been out the inter county game?
“Not hugely, I am thinking of some of the main teams. Not hugely I would say, there are some teams that are trying to set up very differently whether that is to maximise or minimise I don’t know what it is - the opposition that they will play.
“If you look at the top teams the way the play - the Dublin game plan is very simple in how they play the game and approach that they take. With the attacking principals with width and depth and all that stuff and how quickly they recover to defend.
“Tyrone are very similar to what they were, they have tried to be a bit more progressive over the last few years with Richard Donnelly inside and playing long balls and trying to attack more in each half, but overall I’m not sure it has significantly changed at the top level.”
How do you manage the expectation ?
“There will always be expectation in Mayo and that is fine, you’re talking about a draw tonight, you’ll always have a quick scan and see whats out there, but we are not even looking at the first game in the league yet on January 26, we have our first training session on November 12 and we are already working very hard to make sure that is a top training session and we are looking not even at that session.
“We are looking at the support team and the whole group to do something every day to be a bit better, to be a bit stronger - whether that is thinking patterns, doing a bit of flexibility stretching or whether it is watching some analysis, whatever it is that is where we are trying to get to right down to there. The games are to come great, but we know where the FBD game is an we have one guaranteed FBD game and where the start of the league is and that is where it is for now.
If the new rules that have been proposed come in, how difficult will that be to have to use them in the league and then revert back to the old rules for the championship?
“It is the same for everyone, hopefully - God - if some of those come in it will be unusual to deal with and I think it will have some impact on the game to be honest.
“I was asked has football changed much earlier, if those rules come in you have the prospect of changing the game significantly. You will have people lined up on the 45m running, if you are taking a sideline from the sideline and you can’t pass it backwards you will have the opposition half forwards all going defensive because they know you can’t kick it to the free man.
“I think it could have a significant impact on the game and not for the better - we’ll see how that plays out and then play different for the championship. There are different competitions that maybe that should be tried out in, but not the national league. The national league is a superb competition, if you look at it it is the four divisions and division one is a dog fight every year and I would not like to tinker around with the national league to much.
Happy to be back: James Horan is ready to hit the ground running after his return. Photo: Sportsfile
Is it a cliche to say your home base is somewhere that nobody wants to play, do you think that is important?
“I think it is, I think your identity is important and where you are from, there will be huge crowds in Castlebar. It all depends how you frame that, it is a great thing with the energy that they will bring - it is up to us a team and the support team to make sure we are right for those games.
“If your head is not right going into it you’ll see it as a weight and the crowd and all that, but if you prepare right for those it will be an exciting night for everyone involved - I think it is very important that your home base is strong.”
Regards the trials that you have mentioned, who will be asked to compete in those, will the existing panel?
“It is a mixture, Martin Barrett and myself have been on to a lot of clubs over the last three days and we have got a great response the phone has been hopping.
“It is the October Bank Holiday weekend on the Saturday and Monday, we will be playing three games each day with a rest day in between, so everybody involved will get a minimum of two games and that is only fair to get a fair reflection of their overall performance.
“There will be many of the existing players playing as well, some of them are away that October Bank Holiday weekend which is fair enough.
“The majority of the panel that was there in 2018 will they be playing.”
Is it to early to ask the question in terms of the what we see as the existing panel are they making themselves available going forward?
“I haven’t talked to them all yet, but there is no panel at the moment - genuinely once you finish in 2018 the panel is gone, there are players that played in 2018 and I am working through and talking to those.
“I haven’t come across anyone yet that is stepping out and I obviously would have gone to some of the older players first and had those conversations anyone I have talked to is very keen to be involved in the trials and get cracking.
Any word from any of them they will not be involved ?
No, no-one I have talked to said that, some of them might have thought they didn’t have to be involved in the trials but they do, so that’s where it is. The enthusiasm is there.
Will the focus be on blooding new players next year ?
“Yes but it is an interesting one, because the national league doesn’t, it is very hard for it to work that way a lot of it depends on how your first two games go and how things happen, but we’ll have quiet a few training sessions, some games we could have up to three FBD games before we play national league.
“I think any new management team that comes in or any start of the year you are always looking for someone or something fresh, so if it is a close call between an existing player and new player and both are preforming the new player is going to get the nod, that is the way it will work - when you look at it like that there will definitely be some new players that will be knocking around and get game time and sometimes if a new player can get one-two-three games in a row, a sequence of games sometimes you need to take a punt on them and sometimes the first game they stumble, but if you give them a bit it is amazing what can happen with some of them we need to try and figure that out as a support team to see what guys we think can push through.”