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Horan happy to focus on football


THE YOUNG ONES Eoghan McLaughlin, Mark Moran and Oisin Mullin are pictured at Croke Park after last December's All-Ireland SFC Final defeat to Dublin. Pic: Conor McKeown

Mayo’s young players benefitted from being in their own bubble last season

Mike Finnerty

ONE word, in particular, cropped up again and again when James Horan chatted to members of the local media last week.
The Mayo manager was keen to emphasise just how many young players had learnt so much from their experience on the training ground and in the white heat of championship in the last few months of the year.  The names roll off the tongue: Oisin Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin, Ryan O’Donoghue, Tommy Conroy, Bryan Walsh, Padraig O’Hora, Mark Moran, Jordan Flynn, Rory Brickenden and Darren McHale — all of whom made their senior championship debuts last Autumn.
Paul Towey and David McBrien also made their first league starts last year.
That’s a dozen players who graduated to the senior ranks and should be all the better for it in the 2021 campaign.
With media access to all inter-county teams significantly curtailed due to Covid-19 restrictions and the ‘shotgun-style’ nature of last season’s championship, as well as the games being played behind-closed-doors, there was much less in the way of distractions for all concerned.
The Mayo News suggested to James Horan last week that, especially given the number of young players he blooded last year, he must have been delighted to be able to just get on with the job — far from the madding crowds and without any of the normal distractions.
“It was very different for sure,” he admitted. “If you look at the amount of young guys we had last year – a phenomenal amount really, more than any other county, and we played more than any other county, we had three young players in for ‘Young Player of the Year’ – we got an awful lot of development very quickly from our younger players.
“I don’t know if it would have been any different with crowds there, but there was certainly great clarity in what we were trying to do. There were no distractions – you know, leading up to the [All-Ireland] final and the organisation of events and tickets and prizes and all that kind of stuff just didn’t exist.
“Everything that usually surrounds Mayo football is great, don’t get me wrong, but it can be a distraction, particularly for younger players who might play one game and might be all over everything straightaway, or people coming up to them or whatever.
“When that wasn’t there, I think it did maybe help them focus on the football.
“Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not the same without the crowd there,” he added.
“I think the players would say that too. But I think the degree of development we got last year was amazing. Circumstances would have helped that.”
The Mayo News followed up by asking if that made Horan’s ‘job easier’? That by stripping everything back he could ‘focus on the football’?
“I think it does,” he said. “There can be a lot of distractions, particularly around Mayo football, and they all add up because we might have 40 players, so very quickly you can see how there’s a number of things that are small in nature but when all added up could be a distraction to the group or the team or what we’re trying to do as a management group.
“When they’re not there, the majority of your time can be on coaching or video or working with the players. The more time we can spend on that, the better.”

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