THE addition of James Horan’s name to the list of applicants for the post of manager of the Mayo senior squad provides the selection committee with a headache they had not anticipated.
Few did. His last-minute intervention has opened a two-horse race for the job. What tempted the former manager to agree to his club’s nomination will engender speculation until an appointment is finally announced.
Horan has been a popular choice ever since the resignation of Stephen Rochford, but it was thought highly unlikely he would consent to nomination because of his reported disagreements with officers of Mayo County Board.
In their wisdom the county board executive had requested clubs to submit nominations for the post. Horan’s initial reluctance to allow his name go forward for consideration left no-one in doubt about the direction the search for a new manager was taking.
With Horan – the preferred choice of the majority of Mayo supporters – out of the equation there was no room for argument if only one other person was nominated. Hobson’s choice!
Like the Cambridge carrier who hired out horses giving the customer the ‘choice’ of the one nearest the door or none at all, the selection committee could point to the dilemma that confronted them. They had no option but to appoint the only candidate before them. Mike Solan, the only other nominee, was destined to become the new Mayo manager unchallenged.
The All-Ireland winning under-21 boss would have been the choice of some people, and is certainly the preferred choice of some officers of the County Board, especially those whose antipathy towards Stephen Rochford is equalled only by that shown to James Horan.
While his experience and achievements do not correspond to those of his rival, Mike Solan has the potential to become an accomplished team boss. And if the choice of those officials who would like to see him appointed prevail, he may be the man to lead Mayo next season.
He would certainly appease those who claimed that even though he did play at least five of them, Stephen Rochford gave too few chances to members of the All-Ireland winning under-21 squad.
What then tempted James Horan to consent to the nomination? The Ballintubber native has barely settled into his managerial post in Westport where his appointment has been universally welcomed.
As club boss and Gaelic games commentator he has been relatively free from the stress of county management. Who would want to take on the demanding and diverse functions that overseeing Mayo football entails?
Could that bond with the youngsters he shaped into such a successful side have been the lure? Now reaching the twilight of their football careers without fulfilling their potential maybe he thinks they can still indulge the dream. It’s a task that requires sensitive handling just now.
Most certainly, unlike his rival, Horan was not approached to take the reins by Mayo GAA officials. Nor is there any guarantee he would reach similar heights of success on this return.
We thought John O’Mahony’s second coming was the answer to our hopes and prayers. It wasn’t. But somehow there is faith among most supporters in Horan’s ability.
To have elevated Mayo so quickly from a state of virtual despair to genuine All-Ireland contenders was unprecedented in the county. That achievement is still fresh in thousands of memories.
Talk of his re-appointment is, of course, precipitous. Who knows what obstacles they will put in his path during the interview? Who knows how many members of the board would welcome the appointment of Mike Solan rather that the proven leader.
But Horan’s love of Mayo is undisguised in his interview with Mike Finnerty elsewhere in this newspaper, his confidence of restoring their challenge to Dublin’s dominance unmistakeable.
Maybe in some way room could be found to accommodate the mutual skills of the two candidates: Solan’s deep knowledge of underage football and Horan’s experience and sagacity. Perhaps, perhaps not!
Westport’s best is yet to come
ALL year their promise brought a new dimension to championship expectations.
Westport, a new team of young, exciting footballers under the tutelage of James Horan, attracted a huge following to MacHale Park on Saturday evening for their quarter-final confrontation with Breaffy.
Their hopes of reaching the semi-finals were not fulfilled, but they provided their far more experienced opposition with a few headaches before Robert Hennelly hit the winning point for Peter Ford’s men on the stroke of full time.
Breaffy deserved their win. A man short for more than fifteen minutes of the second half – after Matthew Ruane was banished for double yellow card offences – they managed to hold on in the face of Westport’s growing authority.
Experience won it for them, the kind of calmness that Aidan O’Shea brought to the last tense minute or two when they were under severe pressure. His battle with Lee Keegan in the second half was a needle affair, and it was good to see the two county team buddies embrace at the end. But they know they were in a battle.
Westport’s best is yet to come. In full flight they are one of the most exciting teams we have seen in years.
Ballintubber killed off their challenge with two goals in the final minutes of the first half. The early potential shown by Moy Davitts of a possible surprise result was premature. The old heads in Ballintubber worked their way methodically through the stages, clinching it with the goals.
Jason Gibbons was in regal form in the middle of the field. Alan Dillon, the O’Connors and Alan Plunkett were also hugely prominent, and Cathal Hallinan, Gary Loftus and Michael Plunkett linchpins of the defence.
Ballaghaderreen’s defeat of Garrymore is surely the shock result of the championship. Nothing in their play in the first half when they confined Ballagh’, who had the benefit of the gale, to a lead of three points predicted the final result.
Ballagh’ found resources of stamina and skill against the wind that took Garrymore’s breath away. All round the field they rose to the occasion, holding on grimly as the favourites made inroads into their lead, finding from some inner source the inspiration to hack out winning scores.
And all the while the Castlebar Mitchels juggernaut rolls on, their fourth title in a row in sight, but not yet within touching distance.
As expected they accounted for the brave opposition Claremorris offered at MacHale Park on Sunday without being visibly stretched.
Their style hasn’t changed this past three years, nor their determination. Notwithstanding their dominance of Mayo football success has not spoiled them. They have retained their composure, their feet firmly on the ground. No doubt this placid temperament will be fully tested when they meet arch rivals Ballintubber in the semi-final on Sunday week.