Horan reignites Mayo love affair

They say the most romantic kind of love is the unfinished kind. The kind that will forever burn and mark your soul. You date a girl, fall in love, and have a blissfully happy romance. The relationship, like any, has its ups and downs, smiles and frowns and ultimately, for whatever reason, doesn’t work out as hoped. It runs its natural course. It just wasn’t meant to be.

Yet the feelings remain strong. You wonder what might have been, and over time you realise that the pang of longing and regret won’t dissipate. She can’t be the one that got away. You reconcile and both agree to give it one more chance. Maybe this time it will be different.

And so James Horan returns to the role of Mayo senior football manager with unfinished business. The love affair is set to continue. However, will things be different this time? Can they even be the same? Horan’s pained paramour is now that bit older – four years’ worth of miles on the clock and four years of accompanying scars in need of healing.

Mayo football was at a low ebb in September 2010 when Horan was ratified as manager for his first term. He was the only man for the job, as he was by then on the cusp of leading his native Ballintubber to a first senior county title that year. The disastrous John O’Mahony experiment brought just one provincial title and concluded with defeat to Longford in a June qualifier, following an already chastening provincial defeat to Sligo. Still, Deputy O’Mahony was elected to Dail Eireann during his reign so perhaps he has fonder memories of that particular rekindling.

Horan became, over the next 4 years, arguably the most successful manager in Mayo history – 4 consecutive Connaught titles and 3 All Ireland Final appearances in 4 years is no mean achievement. 14 All Stars were handed out to Mayo men in that period, a golden generation with personal accreditation to reward their efforts. A special player/manager bond was forged. Lee Keegan tweeted on the night of Horan’s resignation in 2014 – “To the great man. All I can say is thank you”.

Horan was the definition of a player’s manager – calm, measured, empowering, yet ruthless. Just ask Conor Mortimer. Mayo’s play imbued a toughness and togetherness, an almost pugnacious physicality under his watch, shedding the “soft touches” or “Swedish maids” tag of prior years. But alas, the one prize that mattered, remained elusive during his tenure, instead settling, in Dublin (2011, 2013), Donegal (2012) and Kerry (2014).

Photo: SportsJoe/Inpho

And so the question lingers: can Mayo reach the Promised Land under Horan’s second coming? Wrestling Sam Maguire from the capital to Castlebar seems unlikely on all current form and evidence. Since Horan’s departure, Jim Gavin’s charges have won four All-Ireland titles in a row. Galway, under Kevin Walsh’s stewardship, have overtaken Mayo as the dominant force in Connaught over the last number of years.

Would a Connaught title and a run in the Super 8s represent success for Mayo next year? You would have to argue not. After all, provincial success and an All-Ireland semi-final appearance in 2015 held little sway for this group of players when it came to the ill-fated management team of Holmes and Connelly. No, the only barometer of success for this group of players and supporters can be an All-Ireland title.

2019 arguably represents Horan’s best shot at success, purely as time is not on his side. The average age of the Mayo team which meekly exited the 2018 Championship at the hands of Kildare was 29. The average age of the Dublin team which coasted to four in a row against Tyrone in September was just 26. Dublin have seamlessly brought in young, fresh players each year – Murchan, Small, McCaffrey, Fenton, Howard, O’Callaghan, Kilkenny, Scully, Costello and Mannion were all born in 1993 or since then. Of Mayo players in that age bracket, only Paddy Durcan and Diarmuid O’Connor could legitimately be regarded as successes. Stephen Coen and Conor Loftus have flattered to deceive thus far.

Dublin won their 28th All-Ireland title with MacAuley, Flynn, Brogan, O’Gara, Andrews and McManamon reduced to mere squad players. Connolly is now deemed a gamble not worth indulging. The apprentices have taken over the mantle from the masters, bit by bit, year by year. There hasn’t been a whisper, let alone a murmur of discontent. The strength in depth is frightening. Conversely, Mayo’s best forward made his debut in 2004 and will be 35 in November. The dearth in depth is frightening.

All this means that Horan will need to either a) find a whole raft of new talent within the county; b) blend some new players with the existing core group or c) go to the well once more with the same band of brothers. Option A seems far-fetched. Option B would be most preferable. Option C seems most likely.

The general consensus is that Horan is the right man for the now; the landlord of this last chance saloon. His love for and commitment to Mayo football is unquestioned; the players’ loyalty and commitment to him reciprocated. The hope is that if there is one last kick in this team, one last sting in this particular wasp, then Horan will bring it to the fore in 2019. Horan is the Mayo County Board’s Plan A, B, C and D.

Common sense suggests that the chance of All-Ireland glory has passed for Moran, Higgins, Clarke, Boyle, O’Shea, McLoughlin, et al. Evidence points to a team in decline. Horan is inheriting a lesser team than that which he left behind. Yet Mayo have shown they are at their most dangerous in the face of adversity, when their backs are up against the walls. Mayo don’t do common sense. After all, this relationship is a matter of the heart. Horan and Mayo have agreed to give this love affair one more chance. No regrets.

Maybe this time it will be different.

20 thoughts on “Horan reignites Mayo love affair

  1. JP, I would agree, option C is unlikely. Horan has choosen a backroom team who know the club scene well and who have been involved at various levels with underage teams. He is holding trials, something that hasn’t been done since he took over in 2010. Horan isn’t shaping up for one last go with the old guard, he is planning on shaking things up and planning a longer strategy.

  2. Eoin O’Donoghue I believe had a good year last year as young players who have come in. James Durcan is absolutely flying now. Similar Brian Reaps, Eoghan Lavin and James Kelly. Future and 2019 looks bright to me.

  3. Willie Joe, plenty of women in Dublin, as the saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

  4. Two final appearances in Horan’s reign, 2012, 2013.
    Not three.

    3 appearances in finals after Horan’s reign, 2015, 2016, 2017.

  5. Great article Tom, Good to see Horan being so positive and upbeat on Mayo Gaa tv tonight, by the sound of what he was saying the Rossies in the league is his first target,Mitchels threw it away, Diarmuid O’Connor is unbelievable,that poor fella took a awful pounding throughout the game,oh if we could unearth a few more players like him,we would have some team,it’s not bad as it is when we are firing on all cylinders,Best of luck to James and his backroom team,lots to look forward to over the coming months and early next year,we are back on track,the future looks bright again.Up Mayo.

  6. I actually think Option A is more likely than Option C at this point. I find Option C very unlikely. That they’ve given Horan 4 years seems to indicate that rebuilding is the aim.

  7. Don’t see option C that unlikely lads after all If Mayo was to reach another AI semi final would it come as any surprise if this was the starting team?

    Clarke
    Harrison Vaughan Barrett
    Keegan Boyle Higgins
    S O Shea D O Connor
    McLoughlin O Shea P Durcan
    C O Connor A Moran Doherty

    By year 2 and 3 Horan will have no choice but to move away from option C as age doesn’t stand still for any man or player.

  8. @Mayomagiv. Yes, I’d be shocked if that was anything approaching our starting 15 next year.
    They will be another year past their prime the older players and the younger players pressuring their places will be a year closer to their prime of 24-28.

  9. @JP what lads aged 24-28 are likely to take their spot? most of other players i hear about that should be given a chance are mostly aged 20 to 24 and come the crunch games i think Horan could well stick with the tried and trusted players especially if all players in question are fully fit as a few of them weren’t in 2018 but still started under Rochford.

  10. A year closer to their prime of 24-28 I wrote, might not be 24 yet.
    Next years ages of players who can pressure the 15 that was listed:
    Eoin O’Donoghue 23
    Brian Reape 23
    James Kelly 23
    Stephen Coen 24
    James Durcan 25
    Eoghan Lavin 25
    Caolan Crowe 28
    Those seven have been generally better than several of the 30+ players that were listed. In an equal call next year it makes no sense to go with the older player. Why waste a years development if the call is equal.

  11. Generally better in what club level? the championship performances of pure bred leaders in Higgins,Moran, S O Shea,Boyle etc are one of the prime reasons why Mayo have got to the latter stages of the championship so often the last few years and if Horan thinks they have another kick in them for 2019 then his decision making some be trusted.

  12. @Mayomagic, we’re too far at polar opposites for the conversation to go much further.
    Keith Higgins propensity only for the attacking game has been a massive weakness in the big games. Consistently beaten in them, James O’Donoghue ’14, Dean Rock ’16/17, Padraig Cribbin ’18.
    Andy Morans pace is now too low to start, I watched him closely in two games this year at club level. He’ll be slightly slower again next year.
    Seamus O’Shea might start but he will come under pressure at 32.
    Colm Boyle struggles with the tighter refereeing at county level and now with his pace. Well beaten in Newbridge and will be slower next year.

  13. Reading between the lines here, looks like zippy and co are losing their zip, time for the heirs to their thrones to step up, and if they are good enough,in time, and it needs to be soon,take on the challenge ahead, and emulate them,and maybe even go that extra mile, to make that jersey their own, easier said than done,but with hard graft and dedication,well within their capabilities,the raw material is there, And no doubt Horan will blend it all together well given time.

  14. I stand corrected too – 2 All Ireland finals during Horan’s reign.
    I would love to see an influx of new blood in 2019 and I think there is talent there to bring through in the League. I just think when it comes to the crunch, in a big semi final in Croke Park or Super 8s game, the team Mayomagic outlines above won’t be too wide of the mark. Think O’Donoghue will slot in no problem, and hopefully one or two more can kick on in the Spring.

  15. Delighted to see Horan return and fair play to him for making the huge sarcrafice, he will wring every drop of talent out of that team. I think he is a no nonsense manager but I do think he will have to be a little more adventurous in his game plans. Not having Donnie Buckley will hurt Mayo as he is a wonderful defensive coach and it is looking like Mayo’s loss will thankfully be Kerry’s gain as in my opinion our defensive structure and poor tackling has cost us very heavily since we lost him.
    Good luck in all campaigns in 2019, it’s only around the corner !!

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