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It feels like Horan’s time

Sport

THEY MEET AGAIN Westport manager James Horan and Breaffy’s Aidan O’Shea shake hands after Saturday’s Mayo SFC quarter-final in Castlebar. Pic: Sportsfile

Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

I THINK it’s fair to say that most people with an interest in Mayo football have got an opinion on who should take over from Stephen Rochford.
I’m no different.
Firstly, I think it’s a very positive thing that two people of the calibre of James Horan and Michael Solan have put their names forward.
Horan is someone with a lot of experience, a proven ability to foster team spirit, improve players, and manage teams in big games on big days over a number of seasons.
Solan, considering he’s still only 36 years of age, has shown his acumen as a manager in a very short period of time. He’s also shown that he can generate a really good team spirit and that he can build a team who are greater than the sum of their parts.
That was certainly the case in 2016 with the All-Ireland winning Under-21s and again this year with the Mayo Under-20s.
I genuinely believe that both men have the best interests of Mayo football at heart, and that is all you can ask for when people put their hand up for a job like this.
Both men bring their own different qualities to the table, and I have no doubt that Michael Solan is on course to manage Mayo in the future based on his recent achievements.
But I also feel that the best man to manage the Mayo senior team right now is James Horan.
In my opinion, Horan is more than just a manager to a lot of these current Mayo players.
In a lot of cases he was the man who helped to transform them from good players to all-time great players. I’m thinking of guys like Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Chris Barrett, Colm Boyle, Seamus O’Shea and plenty more.
Horan managed Mayo for four years and during that time he pushed players’ buttons and pointed them in the right direction.
Sure, the players did the work and applied themselves and tapped into their potential. But it was Horan that helped bring players who had showed promise early on in their careers to new heights.
How many times have we heard James Horan talk about ‘improvements’? I believe he is the kind of manager that Mayo need to improve players, who were either inside or outside the set-up in 2018, and get them to step up and reach their potential.
He has a track record of doing this in the past.
Michael Solan has done an excellent job with two different Mayo underage teams in 2016 and 2018, but you just can’t compare working with young players for four or five months with tracking senior players’ developments for four long seasons.
Solan might have those qualities that Horan has shown in the past, but I don’t honestly think that he should be in any mad rush to find out just yet.
Over the last four years, Horan has watched this Mayo team from outside like the rest of us but I’d bet that he could probably give you a list in the morning of where each player needs to be improved.
My sense is that’s the methodical way he looks at coaching. He constantly talks about things like skill execution at pace, proper tackle executions, and shot selection.
I’d be the first to admit that I haven’t always agreed with some of his tactical decisions in big games, or the way he set Mayo teams up sometimes, but I do appreciate his strengths as a manager.
He’s all about developing the culture of a squad, and if that culture isn’t good then it doesn’t matter how good your tactics are because players won’t have bought in anyway.
On a separate note, neither of the two candidates deserve anything less than a proper, professional, transparent process that does justice to the integrity of both of them.
Too often in the past, good Mayo GAA people have been badly burned by poor processes. Will Kevin McStay ever work with a Mayo team again? Or Pat Holmes? Or Noel Connelly? Or Stephen Rochford for that matter?
The officers at the very top of Mayo GAA need to make sure that the best interests of Mayo football is at the top of everyone’s agenda.

Empowering players will be crucial

THEY are two great candidates but I can’t look past what my eyes tell me about what James Horan did during his previous stint as Mayo manager.
If I’m sitting on the interview board, and I’ve listened to a presentation from Horan, then I think I’m going to recognise that he was the man who essentially built this Mayo team.
I think I’m going to recognise that his style of football suited them and brought the best out of them more often than not; and I think I’m going to recognise that he is a manager who empowers his players.
And I don’t think there is any doubt that they are at their best when they’re empowered.
Speaking of which, I always find some of the commentary around the rights of players to have a voice in the dressing-room as ridiculous.
In my view, anyone who thinks that players shouldn’t have a say on what happens in a dressing-room in terms of how they’re managed is an absolute dinosaur.
How can you get the best out of yourself if you have no input into the decisions that help you get there?
The manager’s job is to push the right buttons, get the best out of players, and get them to be the best they can be.
I thought it was interesting that James Horan didn’t rule out the possibility of working with Michael Solan when he spoke to some of the local media last weekend.
If I was Solan, I would take that as a compliment because it shows that Horan recognises his ability and is willing to work together on this.
I read a few weeks ago where John O’Mahony said he thought it would be a good idea for Solan to work alongside Horan.
I’d agree, and maybe it is something to be explored sooner rather than later.

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