EYE ON THE PRIZE Mayo manager James Horan is pictured during the 2019 National League Final win over Kerry. Pic: Sportsfile
James Horan spoke publicly last week for the first time since the All-Ireland Final
ONE look at the agenda for last week’s Zoom call between James Horan and the Sports Editors from the local newspapers/radio gave a clear indication that last December’s All-Ireland Final has already been consigned to the past by the Mayo manager.
The topics up for discussion included the ‘new season’, ‘new players’ and ‘learning, growth and development’ — suggesting that Horan’s focus is already firmly on the future.
Last week’s interview with the local media, almost exactly three months to the day since the five points defeat to Dublin, was the first time that Horan had spoken publicly since that night at Croke Park. So, understandably, while the management and players are obviously keen to turn the page on Mayo’s fifth All-Ireland Final defeat in nine seasons, there is still quite a bit of interest in the nuts and bolts of the ‘behind closed doors’ loss, and a few questions that needed to be asked.
The Mayo News got the ball rolling by asking James Horan for his reflections on the one that got away just 12 weeks ago.
“We were disappointed, obviously, very disappointed, but we learnt a huge amount in the season,” he mused.
“I’ve lost track of the amount of players we introduced to championship football, eight or nine or ten, some with very little time under their belts, and their rate of development and growth throughout the year was phenomenal. “If that growth continues, it will be interesting in a couple of weeks time when we start to play again. That’s the great unknown.
“[Regards the final], on reflection of course you think about what we could have done or tried differently, you’ll always have that after any game. But very quickly the players and ourselves moved on to what’s ahead and the opportunity that’s out there.”
Horan described a year where the All-Ireland Final was played in December as ‘interesting’ so we were curious to know if the marathon nature of the season meant how the defeat was analysed or processed was different to others? “I don’t think so,” he replied.
“The circumstances around the final and leading up to it, and the season were very different, but losing a football game is pretty disappointing whenever and however it is.
“We look very honestly at what we did, what we tried to do, how we tried to play, and look back individually and as a group and take the learnings from it and away we go with those and try and build and improve and grow and develop for the next game.
“I haven’t seen some of the players in three months but I’d obviously be in touch with them. Their training and level of commitment just grows year on year and when you have that you’ve always got a great chance. “We’re just looking forward to getting together as a group and to getting going.”
It’s been well chronicled that seven of Mayo’s starting XV last December were starting their first All-Ireland senior final. So what does James Horan feel they learnt from the experience of trying to match up against the best team that has ever played the game?
“When you strip away everything else, what they’re working on is their own individual skills and programmes, decision-making, that’s where it’s at,” he said.
“There were a couple of bouncing balls we could have won, a couple of hand passes that if they went through… a couple of the basic things under the highest pressure or the highest pace you can do them at, that’s where it’s at. “Hopefully we’ll see the benefits of their hard work [this year].