They say winning ugly is a sign of a good team. Well that is exactly what Mayo managed to do on Sunday but manager James Horan wasn’t getting carried away after leading his side to a second successive All-Ireland final.
“It’s obviously a very pleasing win,” the Ballintubber man acknowledged. “It’s an All-Ireland semi-final where we didn’t play well certainly in the first half and we made every mistake that you could possibly make. To figure out what was wrong and adjust, and come through and kick on and take control of the game and win by five or six, it’s very pleasing.”
So often in the past when Mayo have started games poorly, especially in big matches in Croke Park, they have not been able to recover. This is no ordinary Mayo team though and they proved that once again as they shook off their early lethargy to blow Tyrone away in the second half. Horan admitted he hadn’t seen his side play so poorly this season but was delighted with their response.
“We’ve started well in all our games (but ) today we looked very poor and very heavy legged. We were making poor decisions, we were taking the ball into contact and turning the wrong way and losing the 50/50 balls. We started taking crazy decisions, shot decisions and missed a couple of 14 yard frees. So there was a lot of stuff that went wrong but we kept playing and grinding it out and trying to figure it out and the last ten minutes of the first half was very impressive. We had Lee (Keegan ) and Chrissy Barrett coming up kicking points to bring us to within one score at half time and we just built on that momentum in the second half. I think in the first seven kick-outs of the second half we won them all and we got 1-3, 1-4, and owned the game from there.”
The burden of favouritism was not the issue he was quick to point out.
“Maybe our warm-up was a bit off or there was something like that. We’ve been favourites all year, it hasn’t bothered us, but we’ll have a look and see and hopefully start better the next day.”
When it was put to the former All Star that going into an All-Ireland final without being really stretched was not ideal, Horan drew a laugh from the assembled press when he shot back. “It’s ok though!”
He pointed out that Tyrone had offered a very real challenge in the game and that Mayo learned plenty from the encounter.
“Today was a grind, probably the hardest grind we had, particularly in the first half we were playing poor stuff but we kept going kept battling. As I said it was six of the easiest shots we’ve ever had that we missed. There was two 14 yard frees, lost our free taker, had a goal disallowed but it didn’t matter, we just kept playing and eventually we came through. I think today was good for us. We’ll certainly take enough for us.”
The controversy over the disallowed goal and the Mayo penalty even themselves out Horan believed.
“I saw him (referee Maurice Deegan ) signalling early, I didn’t get caught up in celebrating, it was ok. I think we’ve had our fair share of days where we haven’t got those decisions (the penalty ) so I think we’ll take what is going.”
Alan Freeman’s coolly taken 38th minute penalty was the turning point Horan admitted and he praised the Aghamore man for a brilliant all-round display.
“It was a crucial penalty, it was at a key time and he absolutely nailed it. That gave us a bit more confidence and we took it from there.
“Alan’s frees, and his general play, his outlet today was very, very good but he’s been showing signs of that the last couple of games, delighted for him today.”
Step by step Mayo are slowly getting exactly where they want to be and Horan is looking forward to carry that improvement on to the next day, Game six, All Ireland Final day.
“I think we are in a better position every game we play. Over the last couple of years we’ve developed physically and technically and skill-wise. We go away after game and we take lessons from it and we build on it so I think we’ve started to do that very well, learning from it and improving areas that we need to and I think we are in a good position now and am looking forward to the next four weeks.”