Mayo manager James Horan believes Cork are the most dangerous side his team could have asked to meet in this weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-final.
The Rebels’ disappointing performance in the Munster final against Kerry caused many to question their ability but Horan conceded they now pose a massive threat to his side carrying a ‘wounded animal’ tag with them, particularly given the recent history between the counties.
“Yeah, I am sure they have a lot of stuff and if they are wounded and they are looking for motivation it will be easy to find based on the history that they have had,” he said.
“Even the last few encounters we have had with them since 2011 on, I am sure that if it is Cork they will be keen.
“Obviously they have a couple of big names playing, a couple of big names on the bench, Colm O’Neill inside and Aidan Walsh in the middle of the field, two guys who can change games in very different ways.
“They have a lot of experience at the back and with Michael Shields moving out to the half-back line [against Sligo] they look strong. Some people might say that all the changes would indicate that their form is bad but that can work both ways. You might have a real hungry team with nothing to lose and it [victory against Sligo] might be the start of something significant for Cork.”
Horan’s midfield-turn-centre-forward talisman Aidan O’Shea claimed the win over the then All-Ireland champions Cork in the 2011 quarter-final was the most seminal one of this team’s development and the manager also agreed.
“There have been some changes since that game in terms of hair styles and weight. We were just watching it the last day and it was gas to watch.
“That was obviously a huge game for us, a huge game for this team the way that we drove on that day and went toe to toe. That really spring-boarded us and gave this team confidence and was one of the huge catalysts in this team performance. It was a significant day for us which we remember very fondly. We gained a lot of experience since then and we are looking to push on all the time.”
Mayo’s seasons under Horan have been defined by two All-Ireland final losses and a semi-final defeat to Kerry in his first year. Each year the synopsis was that the forwards’ inability to find their range in front of the posts has cost them.
This year’s showing will once again be defined by that sector of the Mayo game plan, but Horan has seen statistical improvements in key areas which leave him excited ahead of Sunday’s Croke Park encounter.
“I learned a bit from the Connacht final, as you do from every game. We have certain guys who come along and who come of age. Traditionally our wing-forwards was not an area which was our strongest, but I think you are definitely seeing in Jason Doherty and Kevin McLaughlin new leaders emerging in the Mayo set-up.
“That is something we knew but I suppose we are starting to see it in the Connacht final and against Roscommon. While we did not play all that well in the Connacht final some of the things did show a level of maturity for the team, the first time I saw it in quite a while.
“Our ball retention inside was over 65%, which is big for us, and ourreturn rate form shots was very high, between 55% and 60%.
“They are the key things that we have been working on for a while and it was very pleasing to see that aspect of it.”
However he also accepted those game targets and the positions his players start is dictated by the opposition they face.
“It is tiny little margins that are making the difference in terms of the 15 or the 26 on the match day. It is tough in that sense. That can change from session to session, you can have guys who really have a spring in their step so we are always looking to play them.
“But obviously there are always 10 or 12 things to select when playing a player, who you are playing, where they play, the competition for that, it might be corner-forward and you could have five or six going for that, or it could be wing-forward and there might be just two going for that.
“All those things come into the equation and all those things come into play when you are picking a team, they are the guys in form, with the spring in their step, within the game plan, they are obviously the boys that you are trying to pick. Sometimes there is tweaking there.”
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