Certain words have featured quite a lot in interviews with James Horan over the last few months.
The Mayo manager has been consistent in his message since before the season started as he spoke of the need for ‘development’ and ‘improvement’ from one training session to the next match.
“I don’t know if All-Irelands or outcomes like that are what’s important right now,” he said last September, shortly before he was re-appointed to his old role.
“It’s about how guys can develop and improve as Mayo senior footballers every day they go out and play.” Last weekend, Horan made five changes to the team that had beaten Kerry in Tralee for the visit of Monaghan to Castlebar.
Despite the need for Mayo to win to stay in the frame for a place in the league final, he was keen to run the rule over some emerging talents.
It was in keeping with his rotation policy throughout the National League, and involved leaving the likes of Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan and Andy Moran in their street clothes.
As a result, nobody is too sure which Mayo team will be sent out for next Sunday’s Division 1 League Final against Kerry. James Horan has got everybody guessing, including his players.
“We’re trying to play a progressive style of football, and with that there’s risk with selections, risk with [the squad of] 26, and sometimes you can’t ask the players to do it if you’re not doing it as a support team,” Horan said
“But we look at what’s happening in training, whether you’re 18 or 38, it doesn’t matter.
“You’ve seen it with some of the selections, we’ve had fellas starting and playing well, and then in the next game they don’t.
“Because we’ve had a two-week break or maybe they haven’t been as strong as they could be in training.
“Take James McCormack (against Monaghan), some of his passing was exemplary, I thought, and he didn’t look out of place.
“James Carr came on, caught a great ball, his first ball in senior inter-county, got smashed, but got up and went looking for the next ball.
That’s what we need and we expect from fellas. We know they’re great players, and we’re just looking to develop as much as we can.
“And some of those experienced guys want to play as well so that’s a good mix.”
So after giving game-time to 34 members of his squad, and handing first league starts to eight different players, James Horan finds himself planning out a strategy to try and win Mayo’s first league title in 18 years this week.
“The wins are great, but as I said many times, there were a number of things we were looking to work on from our game throughout this league campaign — whether we were up or down, winning or losing,” he said.
“That wasn’t the focus, I was trying to work on some key elements. Some of that is working well, some of it is definitely a work in progress, so we need to keep at those and try and get better and better, and see where it can go.”