Time to reflect on a special journey
AS James Horan exited the Mayo dressing room through one door to fulfil media obligations, his players left through another and onto the team bus.
It was just after 8.10pm and a group of about 20 loyal Mayo supporters were trying to find out where the players were exiting so they could clap them onto the bus.
There were tears among the players as they left the dressing room to polite and grateful applause. Some of them looked like broken men.
Logistics man Noel Howley stood at the door to the bus, hugging each player as they approached.
They were disconsolate. Their emotions looked rawer than after the last two finals, so much had the game taken out of them emotionally and physically. Some of them were struggling to walk from the dressing room to the car, so spent were they.
Ten minutes later, James Horan boarded the bus alongside selector Tom Prendergast, after speaking to the media in a kitchen under the Mackey Stand. Fans waited to applaud him on to the bus.
The Corduff Bus (licence plate 08-MO-88) made the short journey to the Greenhills Hotel. Later on Noel Howley would go out and summon the players back into the function room where they had dinner.
The phrase ‘roll call’ was mentioned. The players were smart enough to know what was going on. Everything about the scenes around the dressing room spoke of the end of an era. James Horan didn’t say it in the dressing room, but the players would have intuitively known it was his final year, regardless of when he announced it.
He was asked by the press about his future plans but said now wasn’t the time. He was right – he couldn’t possibly inform the media before he told his players.
When the players entered the conference room in the Green Isle they knew. Those Mayo supporters outside knew by the tears flowing from many faces as players left the room.
It was the end of the James Horan era.
Mayo’s best ever manager?
DONEGAL’S incredible win over Dublin on Sunday prompted a lot of people rush to draw comparisons between James Horan and Jim McGuinness. Both took the reins of their county teams after embarrassing campaigns for their counties in 2010.
Both have taken their county further than anyone could have imagined four years ago. The pity is McGuinness has taken Donegal further.
Horan’s game management was compared to that of McGuinness and there’s little doubt the Donegal man comes on top. But then he’s the best manager of the current era – a tactical genius who has brought a team with limited resources to one All-Ireland title and within touching of another.
Sure, Saturday did not show a great performance from the sideline. Kieran Donaghy ran riot with no plan B for Mayo.
We can analyse last weekend’s game and plenty of others in terms of game management but ask this question first – has Mayo ever had a better manager of their inter-county footballers? I’m not so sure we have.
Comparisons with Jim McGuinness will only see James Horan come out second.
But, three days after James Horan exited stage left, should we really be looking north and wishing, instead of looking at what we had and giving thanks for an incredible journey?