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Mayo manager all set for big second season

Up for the challenge

James Horan is positive about what future holds

Mike Finnerty

WHILE Mayo’s Connacht championship date with Leitrim on June 24 may be the medium-term priority for James Horan, next Saturday night the second season of his tenure as Mayo manager will begin in earnest.
The achievements of last year have been filed away for posterity, the FBD League title has been retained, and attention must now turn to an Allianz League campaign that seems as challenging as it does formidable.
Next weekend’s trip to Portlaoise will be followed by the visit of the All-Ireland champions, Dublin, to Castlebar. After that there are journeys to Armagh, Donegal and Kerry with home matches against Down and Cork sandwiched in between. As the saying goes, ‘nobody said it was going to be easy’.
At the recent launch of Cáirde Mhaigheo, the new Mayo GAA Supporters’ Club, James Horan spoke candidly to The Mayo News about his hopes and aspirations for 2012.

MF: Judging by comments you’ve made in interviews recently, you seem to be very positive about the team’s prospects in 2012?
JH: I’ve spent a year with the players and I know how good they are. I know they’re not playing yet near where they can do. If you apply that to what we did last year, doing quite well and getting to an All-Ireland semi-final, then if we can get guys to play as well as they can, then I know we’ll be very competitive.
That’s the challenge for us this year as a management team, to up the performance of the players, to create the system for them to play as good as they can, and see where that takes us.
So, yeah, I’m very enthusiastic about this year. We don’t know how the young guys will take to it. Some of them will do well, others may not, but if we can bring through one or two of those guys, and one or two of the guys that have played before, like Michael Conroy or Pat Harte or Conor Mortimer, to add some benefit, then we’ll be a much stronger team.

MF: Are you happy that you’ve got the best people around you now?
Absolutely. I think it’s a fantastic team, one of the best management teams out there. That puts a bit of pressure on us, I suppose, but you’ve got to have the best possible team you can have.
That’s something I’m very excited about. We’ve got a very good medical team, very good people working on stats, very good people working in the background that people don’t know about.
They’re all doing a huge amount of work to try and ensure that Mayo can be successful. So, yeah, I’m really looking forward to the year.

MF: Did you get a chance over Christmas to watch any of Mayo’s 2011 championship games again?
: I had planned to but I just didn’t get to it. I had four young girls at home during Christmas so I spent a lot more time on the Wii than I wanted to!
But it’s certainly something that I will be doing. I’ve got all the videos lined up because there’s definitely things we need to work on.
Already, there are things that we’ve built into training. Tom [Prendergast] and the rest of the guys on the management team have looked at it forensically and have been dealing with Cian to make sure that we plug those gaps in training from last year from day one.
There are some things, of course, that when you watch a game again may point you in another direction so we’ll review those games again, the ones we played well in, and the ones we didn’t, just to give some balance.

MF: How would you describe Mayo supporters after a year as manager?
The majority of Mayo supporters are very knowledgeable people when it comes to football and they understand what it is we’re trying to do.
We got engagement from the majority of Mayo supporters last year because what we tried to do was put in place a good team structure, a team ethic, and work as hard as we could and see where that took us.
A lot of genuine people in Mayo appreciated that and hopefully we can get their support again next year. You’ll always have the knockers. .
Mayo is a football-mad county and we just have to make sure that we channel that energy in the right way.

MF: You’ve said recently that you intend to focus on winning the first few National League games. How do you intend to do that?
: We’ll be putting out the strongest team we have for each particular game. Last year during the league we didn’t get the consistency, or the step-by-step improvement that we were looking for.
As a team, we conceded too many goals. I think we conceded the most goals in Division 1. That knocked us back a little bit in terms of our development.
This year we want to be very competitive; be an attacking team, but be rock-solid at the back. That’s something we’ve been working on recently.

MF: What’s your goal in relation to the NFL this year?
: If you look at the National League in relation to our first championship game on June 24, which is very late, the more games we can play in the League the better.
So the play-offs would be great to get to and see what we could do from there.
If you break that down, we’ll be looking at the Laois game and seeing how competitive we can be and how well we can perform.

MF: What are the initial vibes you’re getting from the players?
: Good. A lot of them have worked hard over the Winter by themselves and there’s a very good vibe around the training ground. Cian O’Neill is taking the training and it’s going well.

MF: Is the job anything like you thought it would be?
: [Smiling] Yeah, it’s exactly like I thought it would be. [Laughing]. Pretty much.
We had a very good foundation in Ballintubber. We tried to apply the highest standard possible there. From a team set-up, and everything to do with the team, it’s quite similar [with Mayo], but obviously at a bigger scale.
The media coverage is something that’s part of the job and it doesn’t bother me too much. I’m just looking forward to getting on to the field again.

James Horan

Age: 40
Works: Coca Cola, Ballina
Lives: Breaffy
Did you know? Mayo have won eight and drawn one of their 14 competitive games under James Horan.

NFL Division 1
Laois v Mayo

Saturday, February 4
Portlaoise at 7pm
Referee: R Hickey (Clare)