Winning the national league title at the end of March is not the end goal for the Mayo team - as the next step on its journey gets under way next Sunday - in as far flung a championship location as you can get - in Gaelic Park, in the Bronx, in New York. Rather, continuing to build and develop the fundamentals they worked on during the league over the summer - is what James Horan is looking to see over the next few months.
The Mayo manager was in the Connacht GAA Centre of excellence this week for the launch of the provincial championship and, looking back on the year so far, he revealed that most of all, he is hoping to see the upward trajectory of his side continue - starting next weekend.
"At the start of the league there were a lot of things we were looking at. There are key elements of our game that we think we need to improve on, so we’re working on those.
"We got some new players in there as well, and that was more important than anything else, improving on those things and getting new players. We stuck with that through every game. There were games that were tight where we stuck to what we wanted to try and get out of the league.
"Thankfully we got results as well, so it worked out a very strong league for us. We were delighted to get a national title."
Players like Matthew Ruane, Ciaran Tracey and Fionn McDonagh have all laid down markers of intent during the league and Mayo used over 30 players, but a lot of that was due to necessity at the time, according to Horan. "It’s not as strategic as you might think. You have a lot of injured players throughout a league, and you have Sigerson and other things, so some of that is necessity as much as anything else. But we certainly tried to get as many guys who were in form in training on to the field as well. It worked well."
As for the state of the game he has come back to this year, having stepped aside from the inter-county scene in 2014, the Ballintubber club man believes the game has changed in a positive direction in the recent past, saying: "I do think it's a bit more positive from what I remember. Maybe that's just the way I want to see it.
"I do think there are teams - I remember playing a couple of games and watching a couple of games - and the amount of attacks that teams had were not enough to win games. There was a containment and trying to win games on 11 and 12 points just doesn't work. I don't think you are going to win many games that way.
"I think there is a realisation and you see teams that are trying to push more and press on opposition kick-outs and that gives you a starting base for being higher up the pitch. There are a few things like that that are definitely happening. The game is getting back up into a strong position. It's getting there. Hopefully that continues."
As for his principles when it comes to preparing a team for action, things have changed but not that much, he added: "I don’t think so, a lot of the principles are the same, of what you’re trying to do and how you’re trying to go about it.
"There is a bit more technology now, you’re a little bit more effective with your time. The loading would be more accurate, the metres you would cover in a week and that kind of stuff.
"It’s more precise and that should lead to a better prepared player when you need it. Overall, it’s about working with people to get as much stuff right as you can. That will never change. Some of the science and technology has definitely come on, even since we were there last."
As for the demands on players at the elite level of the game, he doesn't think they have jumped up that much either, saying " I don’t think so. I’ve had this debate many times. I know young swimmers in Castlebar that are spending more time in the pool than inter-county players are on the field. I know an amount of crack cyclists, middle-aged men who are spending more time on their bikes, and no one knows or cares they are doing it. So I haven’t ever bought into that."
He also said that he doesn't believe the players think it is a sacrifice they are making as they love what they are doing, saying: "It’s the wrongest word going. You ask any player: they love what they’re doing.
"I think it’s important that their work-life balance integration is right. We’ve tried to look at that and we’ve done a lot of good work with the GPA to make sure that’s right for players. The age profile of the team we have, Seamie O’Shea is getting married on Friday, Chris Barrett got married at Christmas, Kevin McLoughlin is just recently married. There is a lot of that happening. You can’t section away certain things; it’s got to align as much as possible. We’re very conscious of that."
The trip to New York is going to give Horan some time to get work done on the training field, with Mayo staying on for a few days after the game to do some sessions, rather than coming straight back on the plane. "We’ll train on the Wednesday night in Abbottstown before we go. We’ll fly out Thursday morning, so you’ll have guys that really haven’t spent an overnight before, Fermanagh before we played Tyrone type thing, that’s about the most some of the new guys have (experienced ), so that’s huge benefit.
"Get everyone together for a couple of days, couple of sessions together and just generally spending time and figuring out what makes guys tick. That’s a huge part of the team development. So there’s a huge amount of benefits to traveling to New York from that aspect for sure and we’ll have a few sessions after the game as well; try and make the most of our time there for the game."
Getting down to the brass tacks on the field, winning the Connacht title is a priority for the year, but Horan is firmly focused on New York and what that brings first. "Provincial titles are great to win, absolutely, we're a good bit off that yet now. We have a game against New York and everything that goes with that so that's what we're looking at, but winning a provincial title is always a big thing and always will be; that's a long way off. We're just looking at the game on Sunday week."