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Uncertain year ahead for Mayo

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OUT AND ABOUT Former Mayo footballer Barry Moran (second from right) is pictured with some of his ex county team-mates at a Christmas Carols sing-song in Castlebar before Christmas. From left: Ciarán Treacy, Ger Cafferkey, Cillian O’Connor and Colm Boyle. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Talking Tactics
Billy Joe Padden

AS we stand on the cusp of another season for Mayo, you’d have to say that not a whole lot has changed from 12 months ago. Bar maybe the fact that the rebuilding phase will be more obvious this season.
Mayo could end up going on a run in the championship, or giving an All-Ireland a shot, but it could also just as quickly turn out to be a year for blooding players and rebuilding things.
An awful lot will depend not just on the quality of the coaching from James Horan and his new management team, but how the players react to it.
The young guys, who have little or no experience of playing inter-county football at senior level, are going to need a lot of upskilling.
Plus, the experienced players are going to need to be challenged, motivated and inspired all over again after so many years on the road.
But while the manager has changed, and some new faces are now in the dressing-room, the overall goals won’t have changed.
Staying in Division 1 of the National League, winning a Connacht championship and getting to the Super 8s will be the main priorities.
Only one of those objectives was met in 2018.
You can’t overstate just how important it is for this Mayo group to win something this year, to have something tanglible to show for their efforts over the last three or four years.
Winning Connacht championships from 2011 to 2015 gave them a springboard to bigger things in each of those seasons, and you can be sure that’s how James Horan will feel about it too.
Achieving those goals is a lot more likely with everyone back on board for one more year. The most likely reason they’ve all decided to commit for 2019 is that they still believe in each other and they believe in James Horan.
The way these guys think, it’s not about revenge on Galway or Dubin, it’s about believing that they can achieve something as a group and that James Horan can bring them back to that level again.
To be honest, I’m not 100 percent sure that I agree with them though! I’m not sure if I believe that, individually, each of them can get back to the performance levels they were at a few years ago.
But I do feel that they can have a positive influence on the squad as a whole if they want to; I’m thinking here of guys like Seamus O’Shea and Andy Moran, who may not play as many minutes as they’re used to in 2019, but who can help young midfielders and forwards to develop and improve.
That crop of young players includes, of course, a batch of last year’s Mayo Under-20s but people need to be realistic about their expectations for them.
They’ve never done a senior inter-county pre-season before so they have some serious physical developing to do. That will put a huge toll on their bodies so there’s every chance that they could show up well initially and then wilt.
But the key for most of those lads this season will be to get their foot in the door and test the water. Maybe James Horan can identify roles for a few of them like the last 20 minutes of certain games — because they will have to learn quickly that you need to sacrifice yourself for the good of the team at senior level. That’s the law of the jungle.
In terms of the message coming from Horan so far, I think it’s obvious that he intends to lay down the law with the players.
Time will tell if he can deliver the results.

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