Monaghan is firmly in the mind of Mayo manager James Horan following the draw for the first round of the All Ireland Senior Football Championship qualifiers earlier this week.
Horan hopped on a call with the local media in Mayo this week ahead of the upcoming clash with the Farney men in Hastings Insurance MacHale Park on the Saturday of the June Bank Holiday weekend.
The main takeaway from the call with Horan, on the injury front, is that Michael Plunkett is out of the game, Oisin Mullin took part in training on the field with the squad on Tuesday night this week and while Ryan O'Donoghue "is in the knock and bangs (category ), he’s not fully back on the field yet."
Horan also confirmed that no player has left the set-up since the loss to Galway in the Connacht Senior Football Championship quarter final at the end of May, responding to a question on that saying: "We have no-one leave the panel, no, no. The group is keen to push on and develop."
Having had to wait around for the last four weeks not knowing who they are going to face in the first round of the qualifiers, Horan is happy that his side finally have a focus to zoom in on for the next few weeks.
"It’s a tough draw for us. They’re a good team, it brings an additional focus when you know who and where. We know them, we’ve played them over the years, they’re very experienced, a robust team, so we know what we’re facing. We’re happy to be in the draw and have a game to look forward to. We’re happy with where we are.
"We’ve had four weeks since the Galway game, it will be six weeks to the Monaghan game, so it’s a long break. It can be good in some ways and it can be challenging in other ways. We’ve had a good few knocks and bangs as every team has, we seem to have a high percentage of them. But thankfully a lot of those are back in play, we had a lot of guys back last night, so we’re shaping up well."
Getting back to winning ways
Mayo have slipped to four defeats in their last five outings since the middle of the league campaign; when asked what he thought those performances stemmed from, Horan said: " There’s various things going on. The league is always somewhere where you try and win games and you try and develop players consistently, so there’s always that, there’s ups and downs with that.
"We had significant injuries as well. I never go on about injuries. Not having a venue was an issue for sure during the league. We have that sorted now, we’re on MacHale Park, that certainly helps things.
"Our form wasn’t what you’d want, but we were trying out different things. So there’s a number of factors, but ultimately, every time you get on the field, you’re trying to win football games. So we’re not where we want to be as regards the end."
As for the heavy league final defeat denting the confidence of the side, Horan was asked did he see that being a factor at all for the squad. "I don’t think so. It’s not ideal. You have all the facts and figures from all the defeats there. The Kerry game, we were poor, Kerry were hot. It’s as simple as that.
"But in the game we’re in, we need to dust ourselves down and get on with it. And we’ve done that over the years. Of course it rattles you for a period, and questions arise, such as: ‘is there things we need to fundamentally change?’ or ‘do we commit and stay with it and stay strong?’ or ‘do we tweak?’
"We have those meetings with players and go through all that sort of stuff and see where we are. The Galway game, as a whole, we didn’t play like we could [but] we still had opportunities to win it that we didn’t take.
"Fundamentally, a lot of where we are we’d stay with, but I’m sure there are things we can improve on, as with every team we will be looking at."
Upping the intensity
As for the morale in the camp at the moment - the manager said: "I suppose if you have guys that are injured they’re a bit down in the dumps. But any guy that’s on the field is looking forward to the Monaghan match, there’s no question about it.
"We’re playing a game that we love, that we want to be involved in, and that we want to progress in. People are looking forward to that.
"For sure, when you lose your first championship match and you’re looking on at other teams play, that’s never good. But we’ll get our chance in a couple of weeks to put in a performance. So that’s what we’re looking forward to."
Mayo nearly pulled off a great escape at the death against Galway last time out, but rather than just look at the positive of that late rally - Horan and his side have been more focused on the stages in the game where they failed to perform at all. "We’re more concerned about the 15 or 20 minutes of that game that we were dead.
"We didn’t look to have the energy, we’ve worked on that and obviously did a lot of work on - not alone just shot execution, but body position for taking the right shot at the right time and the right guys taking it, so we have done quite a bit of work on that and time has been useful for sure."
As for a message to the supporters regarding what they are doing in preparation, it was a simple one: "We are just working away, we are trying to get better, we will work hard and are still working hard and we will look to put in as good a performance as we can on Saturday week and we are really looking forward to it, to be honest. It has been a while since we had a good game and we are really looking forward to it and that’s it."