TOUGH AT THE TOP Mayo manager James Horan is pictured during the All-Ireland SFC Final at Croke Park. Pic: Sportsfile
Billy Joe Padden
I’VE been thinking a lot about a quote from Mickey Harte over the last week.
The one where he says that ‘everything you did wasn’t right when you win an All-Ireland’ and ‘everything you did wasn’t wrong when you didn’t’.
I think it’s worth bearing in mind when talking about some of the reaction from inside Mayo to the defeat to Tyrone last Saturday week.
One game — whether you win it or lose it — doesn’t tell you the whole story of where your team is at.
It’s also important to point out that the games that Mayo played this year against quality opposition — against Galway, Dublin and Tyrone — there wasn’t a really assured, controlled 70-minute performance in any of those matches.
Sure, we saw flashes of really good stuff here and there, but the first halves against Galway and Dublin were poor, and quite a lot of the All-Ireland Final display was poor too.
That tells us something about where the Mayo team are at.
Of course, they had a great opportunity to win an All-Ireland title in a 50-50 game against Tyrone.
And they didn’t perform to the best of their abilities.
But we have to factor in that this Mayo team is not yet a finished article, they were missing some key players who are injured, and they been relying on the performances and ability of some very young and inexperienced players who are still learning at the top level to get them through the likes of the Galway and Dublin games.
If you take those factors into account, I believe it’s easier to understand why we saw a performance like we did against Tyrone. Maybe Mayo supporters, myself included, were guilty of reading too much into the Dublin result.
I didn’t think Mayo would beat them, but when they did, I totally changed my tune going into the final. Even though the semi-final performance hadn’t been great, like a lot of other people I saw it as a massive opportunity to end the 70-year famine. And it clouded my judgment.
In hindsight, I think that kind of perspective is important as we try to make sense of the defeat.
There’s a lot of noise around Mayo and the football team at the moment, as much as I can ever remember in the wake of an All-Ireland Final defeat.
There’s noise about management, rumours about backroom changes, and all sort of talk about what needs to be done.
For my part, I think some things do need to change in Mayo football. But not just in regard to the county senior football team, and that’s something I intend to write about here and talk about on the Football Podcast in the coming weeks.
But it’s important, first, to acknowledge that there’s a lot of pressure coming on James Horan in the wake of the All-Ireland Final. Some perspective is really needed here.
The manager has shown a lot of ability to put a team that’s competitive and challenging for trophies, out on the field, year after year. His record in winning Connacht titles and getting teams to All-Ireland Finals proves that point.
SOME people have been quick to say in the past that he hasn’t always managed his subs very well in some big games, and people have also said that he’s played a certain type/style of football that maybe needs to evolve.
On the first point, yes, maybe there have been times when he should have made changes earlier or differently. But looking back at last Saturday week’s game, did any of the subs that were brought on make any big impact? No, they didn’t. And he knew how they were going in training and would have had more information than anyone in terms of their form.
In terms of the type of football his teams play, what James Horan has proven is that he can foster a style of football that suits his team’s strengths. It’s built on the running game and athleticism and he’s been able to develop players who fit into that game-plan very well.
And that’s needed to be able to compete at Croke Park in the modern game.
So I would feel that what’s he’s done so far has provided a really strong base for Mayo football for 2022 and the years ahead. He also developed a strong base in his first term as Mayo manager and that has allowed subsequent teams to build on that.
Horan deserves credit for that and anyone who thinks he doesn’t has a lot to learn about how football works, in my opinion.
The team does need to evolve in certain ways and get better, and he will recognise that.
That’s something that we as Mayo supporters will all consider over the winter and, to be honest, it needs to be considered over a longer-term to make sure that we take the opportunities to win big games in the future when they arise.
But anybody calling for James Horan’s head needs to be careful what they wish for.
All Mayo supporters are feeling very down after losing to Tyrone, but our team are back in Division 1 next season and have played in two All-Ireland Finals in a row.
We get to go and watch that team play in semi-finals and finals at Croke Park, and have done for years, and that’s been a hugely positive part of so many of our lives.
Calling for James Horan to go because you don’t like the result against Tyrone could lead us to a situation where Mayo aren’t playing in All-Ireland Finals.
Maybe Mayo will fall down the pecking order and it could be a long, hard climb back up again. So we need to be careful what we wish for and recognise the strengths of the management team.
It’s a tough defeat for James Horan to take, but his track record means that he deserves our respect in terms of what he wants to do from here.
Personally, I hope he carries on as Mayo manager. It might be hard to find a manager as good as him with the qualities he has. And at the same time, we can’t throw this team away.
It’s so important not to get too high after victories or too low after defeats. Perspective is going to be so important in the weeks and months ahead.
I have no personal agenda to be defending James Horan, I’m basing my analysis on what’s best for Mayo football, the Mayo football team, and these players.
We can be irate and angry in the aftermath of games, but we need to take a breath now too.
These are amateur athletes who are doing their best to represent the county that so many of us are proud of.
So don’t say something on social media or on a message board that you wouldn’t say to their faces if you met them on the street.