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James Horan needs to be his own man, says Kevin McStay

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James needs to be his own man


Kevin McStay

ONCE more on the merry-go-round. Firstly, congratulations to James Horan. I’m not at all surprised that he is the new Mayo manager. I had a sense all along that he would impress the selection committee because he’s a very bright, articulate, straight-talking guy. He also held his counsel over the last few weeks, got a good backroom team together, and did a really good interview.
He should be commended for putting his name forward in the first place. It’s a big position, he’s a young man, and very inexperienced in terms of working with inter-county teams at any level. He deserves all our support right now.
He’s stepping in at a very, very difficult time for Mayo football. We’re coming off the back of one of the worst championships ever; being beaten by Sligo and Longford in the one season is worse than anything I can certainly remember.
James has a massive job of work in front of him. I’m sure when he woke up last Thursday morning he would have felt very privileged to be the new Mayo manager. But, of course, with great power comes great responsibility.
The big thing is that every day, every match, he’s under scrutiny now. People looking in from the outside will think it’s a gamble. James doesn’t have a senior club championship under his belt and he hasn’t worked with an inter-county team. But he does have energy and enthusiasm, and he’s ambitious. That’s all good. Plus, when you ask him a straight question, you get a straight answer. There’s no waffling going on.
LYONS IS TAMED
I’M a colleague of Tommy Lyons on The Sunday Game, I know him well, and I’ve been in contact with him over the last few days. He’s desperately disappointed. He put his heart and his soul into trying to get the Mayo job and presented a very strong case.
There seemed to be a sense in some quarters early last week, especially among Mayo supporters on websites and discussion boards, that the selection committee needed to ‘do the right thing’ and appoint Horan ahead of Lyons.
I wouldn’t agree with that at all. James Horan was selected on merit. It was very much a neck-and-neck race right up until the last few hours and I know both James and Tommy felt there were in very strong positions.
I know the selection committee reached a unanimous decision to recommend James Horan but it couldn’t have been easy for them to reach that point. These were two top quality candidates, who both wanted the job for the right reasons, with two strong backroom teams. And James just tipped the scales. Why? The fact that he’s local, more local than Tommy Lyons, had to be a factor.
But the game-breaker for me in the whole process (and something that I think is a really great story for any journalist who goes after it) was the fact that John Maughan pulled out shortly after the selection committee was announced. Why that happened is still unknown, but only two men — John Maughan and James Waldron — can answer the question.

THINGS TO DO
THE new manager has got a lot of work to do. The first job is to look at the players available to him. There are a lot of fine footballers not involved who are worth a look. He needs to find players with the right attitude and the right temperament who, like him, are there for the right reasons. To win something serious.
He’s a new manager so, of course, there are going to be new players. Will there be four, five or six for championship? Maybe. For the national league though he might be advised to only introduce maybe three at a time. This is a very competitive division where nothing will come easy. The new players need to be brought into a stable environment.
All the players in last year’s championship squad are under scrutiny now, but that’s not to say that he’s going to toss thirty players out. The squad needs to be pruned and, generally, that involved older players. But James will have to talk to every player.
He also needs to kill off this idea of ‘win an All-Ireland or burst’. His aim should be to make the August Bank Holiday weekend, the quarter-finals, every year, and take it from there. That should be well within Mayo’s reach every season.
When the new season starts next January, my advice would be to try and win every game, everything. But there should be no major disappointment if we lose to the likes of Tyrone by a couple of points, as long as something is learned.

WHERE ARE WE NOW?
IT’S impossible to know. In April we looked like a top four team and by June we couldn’t get into the top sixteen. The defeat to Sligo knocked the stuffing out of everybody but it was the National League final that did most of the damage.
In most reasonable years, Mayo would be a top eight team. My argument is that if you keep getting to quarter-finals, then things happen. You have to keep getting there. In years one, two and three, Mayo need to target the quarter-finals.
It’s awful hard to say where we sit. In terms of player quality, one of the great ways of assessing things is to pick how many of the Mayo team would get on a good, recent Kerry team. Alan Dillon? Maybe Keith Higgins when he’s going well? That’s where we’re at right now.

LOCAL MEDIA MATTERS
This is going to be a big issue for the new manager. There are three major provincial papers in Mayo, a local radio station, and lots of journalists from Mayo and ex-Mayo players working with national media outlets. People like to read and hear about Mayo football.
My advice would be to have somebody who deals with the media. It needs to be handled, not in an unnatural way or with barriers, but managed. Sure, give local media what they want, but in a controlled manner. It’s very difficult to resolve but if I was the Mayo manager I would find a strategy to deal with the press.
The coverage can be hugely positive too, it’s not all negative but he needs to find a way to deal with it. Briefings by other parties about team matters needs to be handled carefully. I have no doubt that County Board officials briefed against managers and officials in the past.
If James Horan wants to win anything, he needs everyone moving in the one direction. Everybody, county board, players, clubs, supporters and media, will have to buy into his vision. If he can articulate a vision, and get everybody to buy into it, then it’s a good start.

TRADITIONAL VALUES
WITH every year that goes by without Mayo winning an All-Ireland senior title, our tradition is being eroded. My big fear is that if we don’t win it soon, that tradition that was passed on to us by our parents, and people who played in, and were at, the 1950 and ‘51 finals, will die.
A lot of Mayo people don’t go to games anymore, we’ve been told for the last four years to dampen down expectations, and people seem happy enough to watch Mayo on TV. The longer it goes without Mayo making the breakthrough, the more that tradition will erode.
Having said that, I think James Horan’s appointment will give everybody a lift and he will get the bounce of the ball from Mayo supporters.
He was a marvellous forward in his day and this is the first time, in a long time, that Mayo have appointed a forward as manager. Ironic, isn’t it? Especially when you consider that the managers in ‘50 and ‘51, Gerald Courell and Jackie Carney, were two of the finest forwards of their era. They were marquee forwards.
That has to be one of the most positive aspects of James Horan being the new manager. He’ll have an eye for particular facets of forward play. He’ll bring a different perspective to it.

MY ADVICE?
I have three pieces of advice for James. 1) Be your own man. 2) Get your objective of reaching the All-Ireland quarter-finals out there and kill this myth that it’s an All-Ireland title or bust. 3) Develop a strategy for dealing with the media.
It’s worth remembering too that, this time four years ago, the euphoria and expectation was to the power of ten after John O’Mahony, a marvellous manager who had won two All-Irelands, was appointed. And look where we ended up? My point? You never really know!

Elsewhere on mayonews.ie
Back to basics with new Mayo manager
Meet the new Mayo management team
Pat Holmes’s advice for the new Mayo manager