Where did it all go wrong for Mayo?

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship

Lots to learn from defeat: James Horan said "If we use this right today it is a real learning to see where the top standard is, we have to use it that way" after the game last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Lots to learn from defeat: James Horan said "If we use this right today it is a real learning to see where the top standard is, we have to use it that way" after the game last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

After seeing your best laid plans picked apart over the previous hour by a ruthless machine, it is never an easy place for a team manager to be, having to face questions from a gaggle of journalists looking for a line from you to describe what just happened.

On Saturday evening as the light began to dim both on field in Croke Park as well as on Mayo's championship season, James Horan had to take care of this one final duty before heading back into the dressing room to join his despondent soldiers as they packed away another championship season.

"A team like Dublin are always going to come at you, they came at us and we were on the ropes and we didn't deal with it well. They came running at us from a lot of different angles and really got their tails up. It really took us a while to adjust, but they were in control of the game at that stage, they just had a very strong period that we couldn't deal with", is how Horan described the 12 minute spell when Mayo went from two points up to ten points down against the All Ireland champions.

As for what went wrong, he mused: "I thought the first half was pretty strong, we defended well and built a few good scores, I thought we were patient and did well and went in two points up, it could have been a bit more.

"At the start of the second half they were very strong, in a short space of time they came at us very hard. I think Con O'Callaghan got a goal and before that we put a shot into the goalie's hands then came down and scored from it; Lee fell and they got a score there.

"I think they won the next five or six of our kick-outs and and got a second goal and it was that period they were in complete control, we were struggling to get our hands on possession and they were in a strong position for the rest of the game," said the Ballintubber club man.

When asked was he worried that Dublin could have hit them with a blitzkrieg like that he said: "They are always going to come at you, they have such pace, skill and athleticism all over the place - you saw in the second half when Con O'Callaghan got his hands on the ball, he just kept running at us, at his man, and when a couple of things like that happen, you can't get your kick-out and your legs start getting heavy and that kind of stuff, but they took full advantage of it."

Whether there was anything they could have done differently, Horan added : "Try to win a few more kick-outs, I think when you are under pressure like that - if we could have tried to win a few more kick-outs, tried to build a score. We had a couple of chances and we rushed the shots - but I think if we got a score in there it would have settled us down a little bit maybe. But it didn't work out that way."

As for this potentially being the best form he had ever seen Dublin display, he considered: "Ah they were very strong, their running is very strong, their condition is very good and they looked impressive when they were running through us; but maybe our legs were heavy during that period - not trying to make excuses, but our legs were a bit heavy so that is a double whammy and makes them look a lot stronger and us tired, but there is no question there, their conditioning and application is top rate."

Horan did suggest that the turnaround was a major factor - with Mayo having to play their seventh game in eight weeks, but he was not using that as an excuse for what happened. "It's hard to say for sure, but if you think about the journey we have been on this year and apply any common sense to it - the turnaround they are asking amatuer players to do is crazy. I didn't mention it all year and I am not at all in any way using it as an excuse, but coming back from games at 2am and guys being at work on a Monday and that - so what we are asking players to do is very, very tough. Maybe give two weeks for the semi-final, that would be a start, something simple - I think the turnaround was tough, but look, Dublin today were fantastic in the second half."

The match-up of Lee Keegan on Con O'Callaghan was one of the talking points after the game, after O'Callaghan bagged two second half goals that drove a knife through the heart of Mayo's challenge. On that match-up, Horan commented: "Con O'Callaghan is a very dangerous player, Lee Keegan is a very good man-marker, he did well for long periods, we just felt it was a very obvious match up. Paul Mannion as well - Brendan Harrision did well on him for a period - so when you look up the strengths that we have and what matches out, that is what we went with."

When asked whether it will prove hard to convince some of the senior players to recommit to the cause, after putting in another long tour of duty in the green and red this year and coming up short in the championship again, Horan said: "Of course it will be hard, there is no question there will be changes in that Mayo group for next year - that is clear, but that will take its own course."

However, Horan concluded that there is plenty of learning being taken from the experience in order for Mayo to come back stronger again next season: "We have a huge amount of players who are involved this year, new players and young players and if we use this right today it is a real learning to see where the top standard is. We have to use it that way, otherwise it is a hopeless cause - we'll learn from today, a lot of new players and in the 26 and outside 26 who are pushing hard and didn't make it today, today will be a significant learning for those guys."

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