THE FAMOUS FIVE Mayo’s penalty takers, from left, Brian Reape, Jason Doherty, Evan Regan, Ciarán Tracey and Fergal Boland watch on during Sunday’s penalty shoot-out victory over Leitrim in the FBD Connacht League. Pic: Sportsfile
A LOT of water has passed under the bridge since James Horan was last on the line as Mayo manager.
A full 1,590 days, in fact, separate Horan’s last game of his first term to last Sunday’s opening game of his second coming.
And the stakes could not have been more contrasting.
A controversial All-Ireland semi-final replay defeat to Kerry that has gone into Mayo infamy ended Horan’s first term in August, 2014.
An FBD League opener in Carrick-on-Shannon against Division 4 opponents, Leitrim, was never going to be able to go toe-to-toe with that.
But Sunday tried its best, and was as extraordinary as an FBD game can be.
Mayo blew a comfortable lead – nothing new there perhaps. There was a refereeing oversight which saw Leitrim’s Dean McGovern sent off and, as he left the field, he played a part in Leitrim’s equalising score.
Perhaps if it was a more important game, Mayo’s rage would have been pronounced. Imagine if that happened in Limerick in 2014? There would be more than Mick Barrett for a referee to worry about one thinks!
But in the first week in January most Mayo fans were as well pleased that it ended in a draw. Firstly, because most conceded it was the very least Leitrim warranted for their second half efforts. And, secondly, and mainly, because it saw us in unchartered territory for a Mayo game – a penalty shoot-out.
Pity the game in Limerick did not go to penalties instead of extra-time. . .
All eyes on Horan
THERE’S little doubt that James Horan’s return was the main talking point in advance of Sunday’s game.
Photographer Stephen McCarthy from the Sportsfile agency had his lens trained on the Mayo manager for most of the game, and everybody was intrigued to see what we would see from the Ballintubber man on his first day back in charge.
On the line, James Burke was his second in command. The Ardnaree man played under Horan in his first term and wore the Maor Foirne bib and was mic’d up. The two talked regularly during the first half.
Selector Martin Barrett stood a few steps back along the boundary wall, along with people like strength and conditioning coach Conor Finn, physio John Courell and stats man Martin Lally.
Occasionally, Horan would go back to Barrett for a quick word while Lally would occasionally approach Horan, possibly with information from the rest of the stats team located in press box.
On the line, Horan showed his first emotions when Brian Reape was just denied a second goal by a last-gasp Leitrim clearance, punching the air in frustration.
In terms of messages to the players on the field, it won’t surprise people to hear Horan was espousing the importance of ‘work-rate’ to his charges and imploring greater ‘pressure’ by his players once Leitrim had made a second consecutive handpass.
It’s an interesting aspect of the new rules, teams trying to force turnovers knowing a team is getting close to having to kick the ball. If they can kickpass under no pressure, retaining possession is a high probability, but that soon changes if the pressure is applied.
It was something Horan was regularly encouraging his team to do.
A couple of turnovers by a Mayo forward in the first half saw the manager’s body slump with frustration.
He seemed to enjoy the penalties as much as any of us, but then when Mayo were in front from the get-go, it was easy to do so.
After the game, Horan was relatively relaxed, conceding the best team had lost. His interview in the middle of the pitch was a long way removed, in every sense, from his final interview in 2014 in a kitchen in the bowels of the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick.
Little did he think then as he stepped aside that the next time he would back in a Mayo GAA wooley hat on the sideline, he would lead Mayo to a penalty shoot-out victory!
A lot of water under the bridge indeed.