Horan has learned lessons of 1997

James Horan says Mayo’s failure to prepare as best they could for the 1997 All-Ireland final has taught him invaluable lessons as a manager.

Horan has learned lessons of 1997

Like 16 years ago, Mayo this Sunday go in search of a first All-Ireland title since 1951 having lost the previous year’s final.

Horan had doubts going into the game against Kerry about the readiness of John Maughan’s side, ones which were realised in the 0-13 to 1-7 defeat.

“We weren’t prepared as well as we should have been, I think, for that game. So that is certainly something that I take into my management of an inter-county team.

“You have got to be the best prepared team there, or as good as you possibly can prepare on that day. That is the way football is now and that takes a lot of doing in today’s game. That is what we are looking to do.

“It wasn’t a regret at the time but when you look back at it, when you learn different things year after year, you look back and think maybe we could have done things differently. But that can drive you crazy as well.

“There is nothing you can do about it now but you can use it, for sure.”

Horan would expect any of his players to talk to him if they harboured the same concerns as he did 16 years ago.

“Absolutely. That is where the game is at. You are dealing now with inter-county players that are highly educated boys, very aware of sports science and the psychology around football.

“They are encouraged to give their thoughts and opinions on where the team is at.”

Horan is assured Mayo are going into the meeting with Dublin at a higher pitch than last year’s loss to Donegal.

“I think we got better at everything we do. I think we got a little bit stronger, a little bit faster, a little bit better. But we have worked very hard on the skills of the game.

“We are much more effective now with the ball in hand than maybe we were. Our strike rates, maybe not so much in the Tyrone game, but in all the other games have been to a high standard.”

That some of their best players against Tyrone the last day — Chris Barrett, Tom Cunniffe, Seamus O’Shea and Alan Freeman — weren’t in the starting team last September is an indication of the improvement. “We had a very good idea that a lot of those would be big players for us this year. Tom Cunniffe was away last year and we knew that when he came back, that he would be a good addition so we knew there was strength there.”

It’s a “steady upward curve” Horan claims Mayo have taken under his stewardship. Prior to succeeding John O’Mahony, he had heard a lot of things about Mayo football he disagreed with.

“There is a lot of rubbish, there was a lot a of rubbish around Mayo football. A lot of stuff talked, a lot of this, that and the other.

“We did look at where we were at when we took over and looked at what we thought was best for Mayo football and we certainly cut away any of the rubbish that was associated with the inter-county team.

“We got guys that were interested in working, in putting their heads down, in being as good as they could be and playing for Mayo. I think we are seeing some of the results of that.”

A seventh All-Ireland final in 24 years, only Kerry have played in more deciders in that period but then their record at headquarters is the burning issue.

“You don’t ignore it, no,” insists Horan. “There is obviously a lot of commentary on it. It is not something that particularly bothers me or this team, I can safely say.

“We lost a final, we didn’t play as well as we could have and that is why we lost it so there is no romantic notions around that.

“As regards the amount of finals, 1950/51 is the last time we won it but we genuinely don’t see that as a pressure. If anything, it is a bit of wind at our back and that is the way we look at it. It is not something that unduly bothers me.”

He recognises the importance of being mentally right for Sunday but there’s more to it than just talk of psychological baggage. “The bigger the game, the smaller the item that destroys it. Yes fitness-wise the teams cancel each other out and if you look at the run-ins it definitely cancels each other out.

“But on big game days for me it’s your skill and technique and sticking to the process is what will see you through. That is something we have been very strong on all year.”

He notices Dublin have been on a different trajectory to Mayo this year, the Leinster champions starting as they meant to go on with a Division 1 title while his charges were slower out of the blocks before exploding in the Championship. Dublin, he says, suit the way Mayo go about their football.

“We certainly tend to play well against them. Maybe that is the similar styles of both teams, a free-flowing, attacking game which is high tempo and that is a style we are very comfortable with. We are happy to play there.”

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