ALONE WITH HIS THOUGHTS?Mayo manager James Horan is pictured before last Sunday’s National League semi-final defeat to Derry.?Pic: Sportsfile
THERE are days when managing the Mayo senior football team must feel like the best job in the world, especially during recent seasons when this group have been flying high and competing with, and beating, the best of them.
Last Sunday wasn’t one of those days, and James Horan wasn’t in the mood to put a positive spin or a brave face on it when he arrived to face the media (and the music) in the bowels of Croke Park.
Another below-par performance had completed an erratic National League campaign and there are certainly more questions than answers after this latest reversal saw Mayo exit at the semi-final stage for the second successive season.
For a team with designs on winning a national title, and ambitions of taking an All-Ireland Championship at the third attempt, this was a sobering setback.
“[It was] a very disappointing performance by us, and one we’ll have to analyse very seriously,” he said matter-of-factly.
“The whole lot of us as a group, we weren’t good today. We need to have a look at everything.”
How right he was. Almost all the principles upon which Mayo’s recent successes have been built were absent last Sunday: the mean, tight-marking defence, high-intensity tackling game, high-tempo blitz attack, the incessant pressure on the opposition in their own half, to name but a few things.
You could go on, and James Horan did.
“Our tackling was poor. The second goal we gave away today, at any age group, in any game, you’d be disappointed with it.
“But for a goal to go in like that, there’s more wrong than just somebody missing a tackle. We need to look at a few things. .
“It’s a big problem for us, we’re getting a bit of momentum in games, but conceding some very soft goals,” he continued.
“Your confidence takes a bit of a hit, and we’re losing games.
“Our work-rate, and maybe our preparation, must have been a little bit off today. We were just a little bit flat in a number of areas so we need to have a bit of a review.”
Horan observed that Derry ‘looked keener than us today, they looked fresher’ and said that last year’s Division 2 winners ‘deserved their win’.
He also acknowledged the winners’ strong finish and admitted that the margin of defeat would probably have been bigger had the game continued a little longer.
It was a far cry from Mayo being ahead by 1-12 to 1-9 as the third quarter tapered to a close.
“We went three points up and had a good goal chance,” he recalled. “We made a hames of it, we didn’t take it, and the longer that game went on, Derry would have won by more. They started to run through us. .
“Derry played very defensive today so we utilised the spare man where we though it would work best,” he added when asked about his deployment of the spare man for the last 50-odd minutes. “But when your work-rate’s off, your work-rate’s off.”
The ‘review’ James Horan mentioned will be arguably the most important of his tenure, coming as it does before the start of his fourth championship campaign.
Lifting his players for another assault on both provincial and All-Ireland titles, and addressing the issues that have arisen from their last two visits to Croke Park will define their summer. And he knows it.
“I need to have a look at what we’re doing, and what I’m doing. We need to correct this, and quickly. But we will.
“Our work-rate was a little bit off, and when it’s a little bit off, our prep is a bit off, it’s about taking some responsibility.
“I’ll be looking at that.
“Work-rate in a game is made up of a thousand little things before a game so we’ll have to trawl through that and try and get back to what we can do,” he noted.
The coming months will reveal all.