Horan prepares battle plans

A recent end-of-year interview request with a Mayo player was declined at the request of James Horan on the basis that 2013 is a chapter closed. No bother, we said.

Catch you again.

At a recent meeting, Mayo parked another close-but-no-cigar season. Wheeling over old and familiar ground in public is clearly not seen as particularly helpful by the manager.

That’s understandable. If the county are going to move on, little can be dwelt on. But wasn’t it Horan himself who last January returned to 2012 and RTÉ’s treatment of Mayo? At the time, we commended him for taking the national broadcasters to task and yet he might have done it a lot earlier than the first month of the new season.

Then again, he was sending out a signal that Mayo were no longer fair game. That spiky attitude has grown stronger over the last 12 months as Horan has added Dublin and underlining Donegal on Mayo’s hit-list.

Amid the celebrations, Jim Gavin won’t have failed to notice what Horan said of him the day after the final in relation to the Dublin manager’s insistence that his team weren’t cynical.

“I find that amazing,” said Horan, “I find that absolutely amazing if that was the comment. I know Jim made another interesting comment — that he’d walk away if his team were cynical, so maybe that’s another comment Jim should look at.”

The counties’ league game in Croke Park on March 29 will be worth watching particularly with Horan stating Mayo’s intentions to make a strong stab at winning the competition, which would be their first national title since 2001.

The psychological battles are ones this Mayo group are well versed in by this stage. Horan dabbled in a bit going back to the previous year’s All-Ireland semi-final when talking about the appointment of Joe McQuillan to referee the game.

He immersed himself in it again before the All-Ireland quarter-final with Donegal this year, stating Jim McGuinness’ side will “try anything that gives them an advantage”.

But which team with genuine All-Ireland aspirations doesn’t at this stage? Aidan O’Shea may have claimed Donegal were more cynical in last year’s final but he was more cerebral in his assessment of this past September’s defeat: “Dublin did what they had to do. We did the same to them (in the All-Ireland semi-final) the year before. I’d have no issue with what they did. That’s what you have to do.”

Maybe with time Horan’s position will also soften but he’s been on the offensive for large swathes of his time as Mayo manager whether it’s been in or outside the county to the point that it’s almost become his default setting.

Picking up enemies might be seen as an indication that their team are doing something right. The problem is both Donegal and Dublin, winners of the last three All-Ireland titles, have the silverware to reflect the glare into Mayo faces. Mayo players have repeated in recent months how closer they are to attaining the Sam Maguire Cup and next to Dublin they have been the best performers in the last three seasons reaching two finals and an All-Ireland semi-final.

But among the serious contenders for 2014, they are the have nots. Cork, Kerry and Tyrone have all walked the Hogan Stand steps over these last six seasons.

Horan is placing a lot of store in winning the league but Mayo are in Dubai for part of January, which may have an adverse effect on the opening of their league campaign. Unless, of course, it is treated as a de facto warm weather training camp.

However, the absence of Tom Cunniffe, Richie Feeney and Barry Moran until Castlebar Mitchels’ All-Ireland club interest finish plus injuries to Alan Dillon, Cillian O’Connor and Chris Barrett will stretch the Mayo panel. But why is Horan only speaking so strongly about the league now when it’s been clear for years that a title is the launch-pad for a successful Championship tilt?

Shouldn’t that have been figured some time ago? Mayo will invest heavily next year as it’s all but certainly Horan’s last season. Clearly, it will be a case of starting as they mean to go on.

But can the manager wage further wars of words for that long?


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