Horan relishing the challenge of leading Mayo to the big one

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship Final

James Horan has guided Mayo to a third All Ireland final as manager, he's played in two (three if you count the replay in 1996 ) himself and he's looking forward to trying to get Mayo over a line they've fallen short of eight times since they got back to the final for the since last winning it in 1951.

When asked last week why this year could be different - he was confident and upbeat in his assessment of the reasons why saying: "I think we're a different team; it's a different setup; it's adifferent environment, different world.

"But I think where we are with the team, is we're absolutely enjoying what we're doing this new freshness to us and we're improving at a rate of knots.

"We hoped to improve again before we play Saturday, and we're just looking forward to the challenge and to be honest, not worrying about consequences or outcomes too much, we're just enjoying being able to play football and give people a bit of a bit of joy from time to time."

This team and previous incarnations of it has given plenty of joy and excitement to the people of Mayo and this year he believes they have the right ammunition to get the job done.

"I think we've more options this year than we've had before. I think its probably the easiest way to say it. You know, we've Mark Moran had a knock he's coming back from injury he's, scored heavy for us this year, you know, with some other players coming in.

"Ryan's (O'Donoghue ) come in and done well and Tommy's (Conroy ) is scoring heavy for us. So there's there's way more options and, and some guys to come off the bench as well so you know Darren Coen came on the last day and I think he was a heavy scorer in Mayo club football this season, so we have more options with in very simple terms which is a great place to be in."

Having a fresh injection of youth into the side has seen the necessity for some of the older players to guide and help the newer faces something that they have not been lacking or willing to do.

"There’s very strong cohesion, I suppose. Throughout the team on all fronts, some of the experienced guys will definitely helping some of the younger guys through.

"I do think it is simpler now with no crowd or none of that. extra additional stuff that goes around big game sometimes so I think that does help, maybe guys just been able to concentrate more on the performance and the football and that's that's really all players want to do so."

Representing Mayo is something that Horan is very proud of and and his players too: "We get to represent the Mayo people and we're very proud of that and and look after any win there's just, you know, 20 minutes after a game with the players and the people involved it's one of the best feelings you can get so we'd like that feeling again, and I'd say that would extend quite a bit if there was a victory the next day,

"But, look, we'll be doing everything we can to try and win the game that's what it's about. So, yeah, we're just looking forward to challenge."

Playing the game on their own terms

Mayo more than most have been a side who have gone toe-to-toe with Dublin and backed their own ability to win big games on their terms and take some risks that others might not, but those risks are calculated ones according to the Mayo manager.

"I think the way we play we take risks, we take calculated risks. We think it's how we play best, and our best chance of winning games and that's what we will do.

"I think you see a lot of teams that maybe don't take risks and play safe and I don't know have they ever a chance of winning games in that mindset so we know what we're about and where we're strong, and we'l go after that.

"There's no doubt about that but there's a lot, there's a lot of additional that we're trying to add to our game as well, and it's, bit by bit that's that's coming together as well.

The style of Mayo play is something that when they hit the right notes is handful for any team and they won't be changing their fundamentals despite who they are facing, according to Horan.

"I think we've our style of playing football, I think when we do it well it's a challenge for for anyone. We have a lot of threats. We have a lot of danger in our team and we try to utilize that so, we're in good shape physically, we're an athletic team.

"There's power there so when you, when you try and get that all into the mix and get the ratios right, We're a seriously strong team. So, we'll be looking to display that again."

While they won't be changing their core beliefs, there is still plenty that Mayo will take from last year's semi-final meeting with Dublin and the games so far this year he added: "We touched on a lot of stuff and a lot of games and not even against Dublin, so we will look at a couple of key things and there’s a lot in that game the last day (semi-final ) that we did quite well.

"So there are some good elements in it but there’s some things that we got caught as well so we learn from that as well so we'll definitely reflect on that but we won't spend a huge amount of time there's because there's so much time we want to put on our strength so we'll be focusing on that as well.

"We'll be looking to do the stuff that were strong at for longer in the game. it's as simple as that it's, you know, I think sometimes people try and do something that they haven't done before and that can sometimes backfire on yourself so we have a very good idea of what we're what we're trying to do and how we're trying to go about it and we'd be very, very confident in the threat that can pose for whoever we play so we're really looking at getting better and better at that. So, that's where our focus will be."

As for worrying what Dublin are thinking about that hasn't entered his head too much: "I'm not gonna really think too much about what Dublin are thinking, and we know what they're capable of.

"I keep saying they are one of the most successful teams in the history of GAA so we're, clear on what they can what they can bring you know their level of performance over the last number of years, regardless of who they're playing or what stage of competition has been exemplary.

"So I'm pretty sure there might be something in the back of their minds that they haven't had the battles that maybe we've had, there might be something there but but their ability to get their level of performance to the level required over the last number years, I don't think that's that's going to be a real worry for them when it comes to the game time."


On the line: This will be James Horan's third All Ireland final as Mayo manager. Photo: Sportsfile

A final like no other

All Ireland final day and the build up to them are usually manic events with thousands of fans filling the cavernous stadium that is Croke Park and huge hype and build up around the whole event. This year it's a different sort of final and that brings it's own issues such as members of the backroom team not being able to attend games, despite their importance to making sure that all wheels move correctly.

"We've three or four of the backroom team that can't get access; our Covid-19 officer like who's been with us everywhere and those who are temperature monitoring does everything else to cant get access to the games.

"I know it’s mad, mad times in a way, but it's a mad scenario when there are sort of three or four people that have, you know, they've been there every single night, you know every single day doing stuff and can't get in, two of them, watched the match on their own in a hotel and we were just on the down the road. The players are conscious of that we try and represent that those guys as well as we can."

As for the whole Croke Park experience when there is nobody there, it's a strange one to get used to Horan says: "Very different. You know from once you you get there, there's usually a bustle of activity around Croker, and I find it very, very quiet and everything around it as well the warm up and even the start of the game.

"You can actually have a conversation or you can hear what the players are saying to each other and you can have a conversation with them and players can hear what we're talking about on the sidelines as well it’s a bizarre, bizarre situation and my daughters can tell me what I was saying on the side of the pitch on the TV as well.

"So that's definitely something else to factor in. But it's very very strange I remember calling out a player's name or saying something to one of the guys beside me about a player and the player stopped and looked over at us in the course of the game, because you could hear what we were talking about so it just it's bizarre, that way how it pans out."

Making the hard calls

The competition for places in the team and match day squads have been tough ones with a lot of hard calls having to be made and it will be no different for tomorrow with Horan having to make a number of hard calls.

"I remember last year the difference between last year was incredible you know. We had a long road on the qualifiers last year and by the time we got to the semi-finals, we had, you know, a lot of the occasions the 26 sort of picks itself so you know no matter what sort of panel size you start with. This year is very different for us and it's a it's a different type of headache but it's a great position for us to be in.

"Everyone's very clear on what we're trying to do and what the chances are for people, so you know we try to be straight up with fellas. As much as we can, so everyone everyone's pulling the one way which which is great and every manager has to have those conversations from time to time so it's just about part of the gig."

Whatever 26 make the match day squad for tomorrow's game - they along with Horan and his management team carry with them the good will and wishes of the county as they look to give us all an early Christmas present.


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