It may be 18 years since Roscommon beat Mayo in the championship, but James Horan is bracing himself for a tough battle in Saturday evening’s Connacht SFC semi-final in Castlebar.
Horan, who was in charge of Mayo when they squeezed past the Rossies by a point in a provincial semi-final five years ago, was in Hyde Park recently to see Roscommon beat Leitrim by 14 points in a one-sided quarter-final.
The Mayo manager says he’s “under no illusions” about the threat posed by the underdogs next weekend, especially after the sides’ league meeting back in January that ended in a nail-biting one-point win for Horan’s men.
“Under Anthony Cunningham, I think they’re very focused, very keen to do well, playing hard and being really physical. We saw that throughout the league, and I expect nothing different when they come to Castlebar.
“They’ll feel that they went close in that league game, and could have won it.
“Guys like Enda Smith and Diarmuid Murtagh weren’t playing in that league game, so they’ll feel they’re a lot stronger and more experienced now than they were then.
“So we’re under absolutely no illusions as regards what’s going to come out the gate at 7pm on Saturday. We know what that is, we know what to expect.
“We got to see them against Leitrim. They were very comfortable. They’re a strong, physical team who attack from their half-back line and have dangerous inside forwards, and they did well in the middle of the field.”
Horan lined out for Mayo against Roscommon on numerous occasions over the years, but missed their infamous 2001 Connacht Final defeat after taking that year out of inter-county football.
Ten years later he secured his first Nestor Cup as Mayo manager when they beat Roscommon in a rain-soaked Dr Hyde Park by 0-13 to 0-11.
So the two-time All Star half-forward appreciates the rivalry and history involved better than most.
“We’ve had some battles with Roscommon down through the years,” smiled Horan. “I remember one game over in Hyde Park where it was an absolute dogfight, and we just got out of there.
“I remember windy, wet days when there were protests, people up poles, it was all going on [laughs] and we managed to get through it.
“They’re a strong, aggressive, physical team. OK, the league this year didn’t go their way in terms of results, but it could’ve been very different.
Losing players to red cards has been an issue for Mayo in some championship matches in recent years, including last summer’s Connacht semi-final defeat to Galway when Diarmuid O’Connor was dismissed in the opening half. Horan says staying calm and controlled is something that Mayo have worked hard on since he returned as manager last October.
“I think every team that plays championship wants to start well, play well and be ready for the battle, and all those sort of things.
“But unless you’re in control of what your job is, and what you should be doing within the rules of the game, it’s eventually going to cost you. You want to start at a high tempo, you want to start being strong in the elements of the game, but you need to be within the rules of the game. That’s key.
“Our discipline has been good, it’s been very, very good, that’s something that we’ve worked on this year, in our tackling and everything that we do, to try and reduce the number of frees that we give away. And we’ve done very, very well on that.
“We talk through that, and all the different scenarios. There’s crazy stuff that can happen in the first two minutes of championship matches, and we go through that and see what our behaviours would be if some of those things were to happen.
“I’m confident with the players we have that we’ll start strong on Saturday.”