It’s a long way from there to here

GAA: Opinion

The final stand: James Horan and his Mayo team get ready for the final battle in extra time against Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile

The final stand: James Horan and his Mayo team get ready for the final battle in extra time against Kerry. Photo: Sportsfile

It started in a grey concrete room at the back of the stand in MacHale Park on a cold Wednesday night at the end of September in 2010, and the journey ended in a kitchen under the Mackey Stand in the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.

That is where James Horan made his last stand as Mayo manager, his last official duty, saw him ushered from a dressing room full of broken hearted heroes along the side of the pitch in Limerick where his dreams had been shattered less than an hour earlier, and then asked to answer the questions of where it all went wrong from a hungry press pack.

A visibly emotionally drained Horan did not announce his decision to step down in front of the GAA press corp, he waited and told his players first, a few hours later in the safe confines of the team hotel. Which was the right thing to do. While we all felt the pain of the defeat, it was nothing compared to those in the tight knit group he'd put together and no-one on the outside can ever realistically feel that pain. They took on the burden of a county, strapped it to their broad shoulders and never once complained about the weight of the load.

They had plotted, planned and prepared for almost four years to reach the summit, while they never quite reached the destination, there was not anything they did not do to try to get there. Long hours on the pitch, in the gym and studying the opposition were put in. No one wants to get glory in defeat, but it's a well earned glory of a kind that James Horan and his team have earned over the recent past. When the final whistle blew in Pearce Park in Longford in June 2010, reaching two All Ireland finals and two semi-finals in the four years that followed, were distant dreams.

From the outset Horan was not promising All Ireland glory, he wanted to see Mayo be “consistently competitive”, a mantra he stuck to over the past four years. But even from his first night in charge of the Mayo he was aware of the potential in the county. He said, “Things can change very quickly, I'm not promising an All Ireland final and saying we'll be there, but sometimes we overdo the highs and the lows. But if we set the environment right, set the attitude right, get the right character and the right mix of players, and really set down a good set-up, then we can see what happens from there.”

And that is exactly what happened, the attitude and plan were right from the off and Mayo have not really looked back. Even after the defeat last Saturday, Mayo stand as one of the best four teams in the country and Horan has achieved his goal of being consistently competitive.

One things for sure, he has left some very big shoes to fill and whoever steps into them is taking over a team in rude health who know that they have what it takes to get within touching distance of the real big prize and will be back again next January doing all they can to get back there. Even when Horan got the job, he was not the favourite or maybe even the first choice for some. But what he has proven over the past four years is that he was very much the right choice.

As for who follows in his footsteps, that is over to the county board. It is essential, that they make sure they make the right choice. Because the good work that has been done in the past few years needs to be kept up. And who knows, while F Scott Fitzgerald famously said, “there are no second acts in American life” maybe there will be a second act in James Horan's Mayo management life in the years to come. Over to you county board, may your final choice be the right one.

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