Mayo impatience won’t allow Horan an Olympic cycle

Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

So who dares stand in the way of Dublin and history in 2019? 

If Donegal and Kerry are still on the green side and Galway and Tyrone are operating tactics that make them more hard to beat than ambitious, it has to be Mayo, right?

That yawn of yours and that of Father Time would say no. 

Kerry shed four thirtysomethings in recent months; Mayo, for now, retain 12 of them: Chris Barrett (33 in 2019), Colm Boyle (33), Ger Cafferkey (32), David Clarke (36), Jason Doherty (30), Keith Higgins (35), Lee Keegan (30), Kevin McLoughlin (31), Andy Moran (36), Seamus O’Shea (33), Tom Parsons (31) and Donal Vaughan (31).

James Horan has done his due diligence on the existing panel and stated he has not put a line through any of their names. 

That being said, he must be so careful that there are no loiterers. 

What he has inherited is ever so like what he left behind. Twelve of the team that started the All-Ireland semi-final replay against Kerry remain. 

All but Tom Cunniffe, Mikey Conroy, Alan Dillon, Richie Feeney, Alan Freeman, Kevin Keane and Barry Moran are still there from 2014.

The nucleus of the panel, which would also include Aidan O’Shea now going into his 11th season and Cillian O’Connor entering his ninth, are a hardened lot but it remains to be seen how many aren’t battle-weary. 

The above 12 won’t all start a Championship game together again but it might be that they see one out.

It’s imperative that Horan’s familiarity with them doesn’t cloud his judgement, although going by Moran’s comments last month after the October trials where attendance for all available was mandatory that wouldn’t appear to be the case: “Walking into the Mayo dressing room a few weeks ago was probably the most intimidated I was walking into any Mayo dressing room,” said the 2017 footballer of the year.

Horan has taken it upon himself to encourage low expectations. Given Dublin’s dominance, that might be viewed as a relatively easy task.

However, when he is putting the band back together and so many of his aforementioned dozen know 2019 is their last chance of All-Ireland success it is actually onerous. 

As he met up with senior panellists prior to being appointed, unfinished business was a topic of conversation and fundamental to that is re-establishing their dominance in Connacht — Mayo under Horan won all 11 of their provincial outings between 2011 and ‘14.

Publicly, though, Horan has been more subtle. “I don’t know if All-Irelands or outcomes like that (bridging the gap to the 1951 success) are what’s important right now. 

"It’s about how guys can develop and improve as Mayo senior footballers every day they go out and play.”

The length of his term — four years — would also fit in with that but expediency colours his language in private.

What appealed to Eamonn Corcoran when Liam Sheedy first took over Tipperary was his vision to start winning titles as soon as possible. 

When he is retaining so many of his old foot soldiers, Horan can’t afford to consider this as another Olympic-term project as much as it makes sense for him to play it up that way.

That’s not to say Horan’s recent in-county challenge games were show trials or that he isn’t aware transition is on the horizon. 

In October, he spoke of the exciting under-age prospects and identifying 10 to 12 players being close to playing senior football. 

He has namechecked prospect Colm Moran who impressed for Westport both before and during Horan’s time in charge of the club.

Perhaps Horan would be happier if the likes of Stephen Coen and Conor Loftus were slightly further down the road in solidifying starting spots as much as Coen’s versatility has counted against him a little.

Although Ballintubber exercised him towards the end of this year, the benefit of the late summer/early autumn break enjoyed by Diarmuid O’Connor should be seen in 2019.

By the time Mayo line out against Leitrim in the FBD Connacht competition on January 6, 191 days will have passed from their defeat to Kildare. 

That gap represents their biggest lay-off since 2010. 

A Division 1 title won’t be sought, not when the panel continues to be split between the county and Dublin for the early part of the year, but there should be a rejuvenated element to their football during the spring. 

It’s that freshness which should ensure the more experienced players aren’t found wanting when competing with their younger brethren for places.

Expect Horan to be more abrasive in his public utterings than in his first four-year spell. 

Eloquent but so often gruff, his success in adding an edge to Mayo’s football earlier this decade was complemented by his recorded tone and words. 

Five years down the line from 2014 and the county is still scratching an itch. There’s no better person than him to evoke that irritation. 

Anyway, when most of the country see Dublin as the bad guys anyway simply because they have been so successful, Horan can be as narky as he so chooses.

Besides, next to Dublin, Mayo are the biggest box office draw. 

Kerry could return to top billing within the next couple of seasons but ask the commercial department in Croke Park why the 2018 football championship wasn’t as gripping as those previously and they will argue the early exit of Mayo. 

The attendance and viewing figures tell them that the county’s attraction prevails.

Horan’s return more than copperfastens that appeal. 

Mayo’s iron mightn’t be as hot as it was but it’s hotter than most.

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