James Horan returned as Mayo manager to win an All-Ireland
THEY were seven words that very few people sitting in The Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin on that wintry Friday afternoon in late November 2018 had expected to hear from James Horan.
“I came back to win the All-Ireland.”
He had only been appointed as Mayo manager (for the second time) seven weeks earlier, and was speaking to around 250 Mayo supporters at a Cáirde Mhaigh Eo Christmas Lunch.
Horan is renowned for not leaving hostages to fortune in interviews, so there was an understandable audible gasp from the audience when Horan made the remark.
After a brief pause, he mused that he wasn’t sure if it would happen in year one  or not.
But he was ‘determined’ that it wouldn’t be for the lack of trying, training or preparation.
The 49 year-old father-of-five has been true to his word, leading Mayo to an All-Ireland semi-final the following season before qualifying for two All-Ireland Finals in just under nine months. He’s also won a National League and two Connacht championships since.
He now stands, for the fourth time in his management career, on the cusp of greatness.
It probably won’t surprise you then to hear what Andy Moran believes is Horan’s best attribute as a manager.
“Confidence” he replies instantly when The Mayo News asked. “The confidence he gives the group. There’s only one other person I’ve ever seen like him in a dressing-room and that was John Maughan at his peak. They come in, they beat their chest, and tell us we’re going to beat anyone. And I’ll tell you something, you believe it.”
Seamie O’Shea, who retired back in January after spending six seasons working with the two-time All Star forward, couldn’t agree more with his former team-mate.
“James is just a brilliant leader,” says O’Shea. “He champions the young players, he instills a huge amount of confidence in them. His teams play with abandon and they play free and they play with confidence.
“There’s a great kind of sense of momentum to the group when James is leading it and I think certainly in terms of developing young players as well, there’s always been a huge emphasis on coaching and improving and getting better. And you certainly have seen that back at the start in ‘11 and ‘12. And again now with the younger players. He pushes players to get better and improve every year. You would have seen the benefits of some of the last year in 2020.”
ANDY Moran played under Horan for five seasons until his retirement at the end of 2019.
He remembers only too well the transition that took place in the Mayo dressing-room after losing to Longford in the 2010 All-Ireland Qualifiers and the subsequent departure of John O’Mahony. A few months later a 38 year-old James Horan from Ballintubber pipped Tommy Lyons to the vacant manager’s post, and the rest is history.
“I think what you see is what you get with James,” explains Andy. “James is tunnel-visioned about where he wants to get to. He’s tunnel-visioned about the way he wants to play. I don’t think there’s any secret about the way he wants to play the game.
“He wants to run the ball, he wants really good athletic people in the game. So I was very fortunate to get James when he came in during the winter of 2010.
“There was difficulty there at the start, we got five points in the league, and and we nearly lost to London [in the 2011 Connacht Championship], but once we clicked. .
“We kept Cork to a point in the second half in the All-Ireland quarter-final, and Donie Vaughan scores three points against Kerry in the semi-final, and once James sees, ‘This is my style of play, this is way Mayo play football’ then he was away.
“I don’t think you can separate Horan as a coach, manager or person. That’s him.
“He’s straightforward. The boys moved on and retired last year, I retired the year before, he moves on to the next group and away he goes.
“I think that’s why young players suit James Horan style of play. You need to be able to run, and you need to be able to run for 75 minutes.
“And if you’re not able to do that, then who can?”
Moran, who was ‘Footballer of the Year’ in 2017 has already started his own move into coaching with Ballaghaderreen as he winds down his playing career at club level.
So he took a particular interest in the fact that James Horan would be Mayo’s ‘Head Coach’ as opposed to manager when he returned three years ago.
And the sort of things he remembers Horan shouting at training every other night in 2019?
“‘Go. Go. Go’” smiles Andy. “When you have the ball and when you don’t have the ball.
“And things like, ‘What are you waiting for? Get up, let’s get moving, let’s get up the field.’
“‘Track your man’ ‘Follow your man’.”
A few weeks ago, after Mayo had beaten Dublin, Lee Keegan said that at half-time, James Horan had told the players, ‘Relax, breathe, there’s plenty of time’.
Andy Moran nods and says it sounded familiar.
“There’s a passage in my book about the Cork game [All-Ireland quarter-final] in 2011 where James says to us, “Ye will get your chances, these are getting old, they don’t have the fight, they’ve won their All-Ireland’.
“I could picture what happened in that dressing-room the last day, and what Lee Keegan said didn’t surprise me in the slightest.
“That’s experience. I genuinely think our major advantage going into this All-Ireland Final is James Horan. His experience. This is his fourth All-Ireland and I think it gives us a huge opportunity.”