With plenty of time still to go before Sunday’s showdown with the Tribesmen, James Horan along with Keith Higgins and one of the new guns in his panel, last year’s minor captain Stephen Coen were in relaxed mood, when they sat down to meet the press. However Horan picked the two players to accompany him on press duties is something only the manager knows, but in choosing both Higgins and Coen he was flanked by the last two Mayo players to captain the county to All Ireland glory. Higgins in 2006 with the u21 team, and Coen last September in Croke Park with the minors.
As for the formalities of who is in and who is out of the team for Sunday, Horan was noncommittal last week, insisting that there was still plenty of time for players to put their hands up for a jersey on Sunday. “People that are showing form in those encounters [in training] will definitely be in contention.”
As for Sunday’s opponents both Horan and Higgins feel that Galway will come into the game full of confidence. The Mayo manager, who is looking to win his fourth Connacht title on the trot with the county, said: “I’m sure they took a lot of heart from it. They’d a lot of newish guys that did very, very well for them. I’m sure after the big score against London and the very solid preference in Sligo, they’ll be confident. They’ve a lot of guys who are really, really dangerous, which Galway tend to have. You see Shane Walsh and Danny Cummins, Shane on his day is as dangerous a forward as there is. Galway are a good solid team with prospects there.”
The Tribesmen have made a few changes in style since they last met Mayo in the championship and it will be a different game Horan expects. “They’re setting up a bit different, they’re playing two inside and bringing one out around the middle and are a little bit more solid than they were, and defensively they’ll have learned over the last few games.”
Higgins knows that Galway are still smarting from last year’s game and expects them to come at Mayo right from the start. “If you’d got a hiding like that last year you’d be coming out all guns blazing trying to rectify it. From our point of view we are playing our biggest rivals in our home patch in a Connacht final. If that doesn’t motivate you nothing will. A Connacht medal is something to be cherished.” As for the players who have impressed him from Sunday’s opponents, Higgins said that against Sligo “Shane Walsh probably stole the show”, and “the two boys at midfield [Fiontán Ó’Curraion and Tom Flynn] look very strong.” But it is not just the men who started that game who Mayo will have to worry about, he went on to explain. “You have Paul Conroy and Sean Armstrong who didn’t even start the last day. So they look a strong outfit and we have to figure out how to keep tabs on them.”
Moving on and learning from Roscommon
As for Mayo’s last outing against Roscommon five weeks ago, Mayo could have made it easier on themselves Horan admits, saying. “If we’d taken half of our first nine, 10 or so shots in Hyde Park we would have been well clear at half time. We missed an awful lot early on and that put us under some pressure and gave confidence to Roscommon and the way they’d set up. If we’d gone in a few points ahead it would have been a different type of game.”
Higgins was expecting a tough game and that is what he got. “People expected us to go to Hyde Park and win by 20 points, that was never going to happen, they’re on their home patch and were coming off the high of a league win and their u21 success, they were always going to make it difficult. Whenever you come home from Hyde Park with a win and place in the Connacht final, it’s a good place to be.”
The reaction to the game from the public was something that Horan expected, but he did not pay it much attention, he explained. “As I’ve said before, we overdo the highs and we overdo the lows in Mayo. Since I’ve been involved with the team we’ve played three games in Hyde Park. In one game we were three points down and we were behind in the other two. Hyde Park is a tough place to be.”
Higgins has moved back to his traditional corner back slot with the team since the end of the league campaign, but he is just happy to play anywhere he explained as long as he gets the nod to start. “I’m happy to play anywhere, with the panel we have now any jersey you get from one to 15 you’re happy with.” Playing in different positions has also seen him have to adapt his style of play on the field. “When you’re a corner back, you’re more worried about the guy standing beside you, stopping him scoring, whereas a forward you’re trying to win the ball yourself, pick up the breaking ball, and then have to worry about the wing back going forward, so there’s a lot more to think about, it’s a lot more open.”
The new young gun
Stephen Coen is one of the new kids on the block this year in the Mayo senior team. The Hollymount-Carramore man who followed up last year’s success with the minor team, having to juggle both being part of James Horan’s panel and the Leaving Cert has enjoyed every minute of it this year. “The physicality is one major thing that hits you straight away, we’ve done a lot of work together with the team and Ed [Coughlan - Mayo’s strength and conditioning coach] I’ve adapted to that. But there’s a major difference, there’s guys who are 27 or 28 and with years of experience, when you’re used to playing minor it’s a different experience.
“I’d a few years at minor and I learned an awful lot in those years, and now I’m just trying to learn from these guys here. Every day you go out and you learn something from one of them.”
As for getting the call from Horan to come into the panel, it is something that he will not forget quickly, he said. “I supposed I would have believed in myself, it’s something that I wanted to achieve and I felt I was ready for the challenge, and thankfully James made the call. To tell my parents that I got the call was a great feeling.”