Good start will be half the battle
JAMES HORAN figured only faintly in the thoughts of many when first nominated. Never quite ignored, but measured against the accomplishments of Mick O’Dwyer, John Maughan and Tommy Lyons, he was not a front runner either.
Only when O’Dwyer and Maughan withdrew from the race was any serious thought given to the man who without any swagger, any hint of self-importance, has steered Ballintubber to the first senior final in the history of the club.
When white smoke plumed from McHale Park on Wednesday night announcing that Horan had been entrusted with the task of steadying the guttering flame of Mayo football, the welcome was warm and genuine.
He is one of our own, was the general reaction of people around the county. Deeply rooted in Mayo football, he was a member of the side that came nearest in almost sixty years to closing the ever widening gap… a man like every other Mayo person bathed in the tears of so much Croke Park hurt.
Tommy Lyons, himself a Mayo native, was a hot contender, his success with Kilmacud, Offaly and Dublin underlining his qualifications. But the selection committee went for the man on the ground, who was more in touch with latent potential.
It’s a task no one envies. Mayo football has become the cemetery of the hopes of so many managers down the years you wonder how anyone would want to take charge. All of them came in the belief they had the panacea. All of them left disillusioned.
James Horan now joins that elite group — the likes of Seamie Daly, Aidan Swords, Ray Prendergast, Johnny Carey, Sean Flanagan, Anthony Egan, Joe Lennon (adviser), Fr Martin Newell, Liam O’Neill, John O’Mahony, Brian McDonald, Jack O’Shea, John Maughan and Pat Holmes. Each was irresistibly drawn to the pull of the challenge, and none was less sanguine than his predecessor. Maybe at last luck is about to change.
Only someone with the strongest belief in his own ability, though, would want to lumber himself with the enormity of the mission facing a new manager. The immediate priority is to shore up Mayo’s creaking confidence, to restore the dignity of their early season performances. Before sculpting a new senior side the baggage of old defeatism must also be cut adrift.
He will sift for new talent, rake the club scene for anyone with a modicum of potential. Junior players in smaller clubs will not be overlooked. An All-Ireland is not an early goal, but the teams he fields will be worthy of wearing the Mayo jersey, teams proud of their performances whatever the outcome… moulded perhaps in his own undiluted enthusiasm.
James comes with no extravagant promises. He’ll look for the positive in every facet of development. He brings with him no gilded history. His achievements are confined mostly to Ballintubber, but are no less important for all of that. He will be a hands-on manager.
As a selector, James Nallen is a bonus. His insight and county experience are invaluable attributes, and together with Martin Connolly, a man of great honesty and determination, Paul Jordan, Tom Prendergast and Liam Moffatt, complete a background unit which will shape Mayo football for the next few years.
Nobody knows what the future holds, though. It is no ordinary problem the new management team have been chosen to tackle. Intrinsic failure for which no remedy has been found in sixty years is the entrenched enemy with which they have to lock horns.
Planning the months ahead will have already begun. But without inter-county managerial experience progress will not be smooth. Whatever new talent is unearthed will not blossom overnight. Confidence has to be instilled, rough edges smoothed. That takes time and patience.
Experimentation at inter-county level will be conducted during the FBD league, but how to approach the National League is a dilemma that will test their maturity as a management team.
Wholesale overnight changes will threaten their Division One status. Paradoxically, new talent needs the experience of the league for the championship hurdles ahead. And in the final analysis, the championship is really what matters.
With such responsibility comes pressure. How the new management team responds to the tangle of unforeseen issues they face will determine their success. They need time to settle in, to weed and to sow, and deserve the good wishes of every Mayo fan. A good start will be half the battle.
Junior showpiece promises fireworks
THE new Mayo manager will have his first opportunity to assess budding talent when the cream of junior football is flaunted at McHale Park on Sunday.
Islandeady and Parke meet in the first of the big finals of the season, and both have been so impressive in their respective paths to the concluding stages that a classic is on the cards.
Junior success has not visited Islandeady since 1985. Three years ago they reached the final, but failed to find their best form and lost to Achill by seven points.
Parke won their last junior title thirteen years ago, but reached the intermediate final in 2006, and that’s an advantage they hope to exploit on Sunday.
Islandeady have been making a big impression this season. Direct football has won them many plaudits, and the intensity with which they pursue every opportunity is a sign of their determination to compensate for the disappointment of 2007.
Some nine members of the squad that lost to Achill will be in action on Sunday. And special interest will be centred on the performances of Niall McCormack and Ollie Feeney in defence, Peter Collins and Shane Heraty at midfield and Vinny Feeney, Liam Joyce and Cormac Gordon in the forward line.
Ollie Feeney has been in the spotlight for his strong performances at centre back, and the accuracy of his brother Vinny has been decisive in many games. Midfielder Shane Heraty adds extra power to the forward unit and made a crucial contribution of 1-1 to their semi-final win over Louisburgh.
But Islandeady will miss the injured Brian McCormack. His power and authority drove them in the earlier rounds and management will be asking that extra effort from the rest of the team to make up for that loss. I think they’ll get it.
Parke are considered by many the more likely side to succeed… not only because of their strong performances in the championship, but because of the experience they gained at intermediate level.
That higher grade is a big confidence builder, and that was admirably demonstrated in their semi-final when they held out Lahardane while down to fourteen men… after John Cloherty was dismissed ten minutes from the end for double yellow card offences.
That’s the strength they carry into Sunday’s final. In Niall and Anthony Dunne they also have a pair of stars from their successful side of 1997. But the bulk of the side were on the intermediate team that lost to Tourmakeady by a single point.
Niall Dunne and Tom Walsh in the pivotal centre-forward and centre-back positions have been keystones of their journey to the final, while Anthony Dunne, sharpshooter Simon Cloherty and Sean McHale have also been influential.
Parke have benefited, too, from the inclusion of Dwayne Flynn, a former Castlebar Mitchels player, who is nippy and skilful, and will take some watching.
For all that, I expect Islandeady may have just enough determination to see them through.
Just a thought …
Westport’s Dermot O’Connor was the victim of a surprise aerial attack on Sunday… when stung in the arm by a wasp during their league match with Ballagh’. Undeterred by the pain, however, the intrepid midfielder continued to star to the end.