Mayo ‘further along the road’, but how far?

First of all let’s get one thing clear.

Mayo will not be storming Hill 16 à la 2006. Even the mere mention of it seems to annoy manager James Horan.

Reporter: “Were you in Croke Park in 2006?” he was asked at the team’s press evening.

Horan: “No.”

Reporter: “Did you watch it on the box?”

Horan: “No.”

Reporter: “Have you watched it since?”

Horan: “Yes.”

Reporter: “Elaborate.”

Horan: “I watched the Dubs being six or seven points up and putting a few [balls] into the goalie’s hands and Mayo kicking on. As regards this team, where we are, it’s of little relevance.”

Reporter: “That whole 2006 kidology, will it happen again?”

Horan: “It would be interesting to talk to the players on that. For me we’re given a sheet on the Tuesday of every game week which tells us which dressing room we’re in and which end we’ll warm up in and who comes on and off first. Stuff like that we don’t even worry about. We’ve other things to focus on.”

It’s going to be rehashed over the next couple of days but for Horan, the figurehead of a new Mayo, it’s not worth entertaining. That’s not the persona of his team. Now they are tough and aggressive, a far cry from the poster boy image of 2006.

His time with Mayo on the playing field embodied a more traditional team. But in a county where pride in traditional values have often hindered progression he has been busy marrying the best and weeding out the worst to form the Mayo we know today.

It’s an approach that has won admirers and the right to play Dublin. It’s also another reason why he’ll want everyone to forget about 2006.

Anyhow, that psychologically weak Dublin side has been replaced by a team coming into this game as reigning All-Ireland champions.

“If you look at them last year, yeah they might not have hit the same heights but if you look at how they won the All-Ireland it was based on work-rate and intensity and movement all over the field,” he said.

“They outran and outworked other teams last year. We have to feel that will be the case on Sunday. It’s going to be a huge step up for us.”

More questions come in about Dublin. He responds in brief but finishes each statement with the “we’re concentrating on our own game” line. He’s far more comfortable talking about Mayo. In his second year at the helm he’s seen signs of a massive transformation from the squad he inherited that were beaten by Sligo and Longford in 2010’s championship. Eight players started the Connacht final this year that didn’t in 2011.

“We’re stronger and smarter and have a lot more strings to our bows than last year but it’s all based on the same principles.

“High work rate, high tempo, high pressure, good skill and execution. That’s the principles of what we’re trying to do at the moment and there’s no secret to it. We’re happy we’re further along the road than this time last year.”

And they’ve a cause too. So successful has Horan been in keeping Mayo out of the spotlight that there is a strong feeling within the county they haven’t got the recognition they deserve. Being accused of Mayo’s old failings with a relatively new team also irks him and it’s why they’re going to Croke Park with a point to prove.

“Cork last year, a lot of people thought we caught them on the hop which to us is complete rubbish because we played well that day and beat them and thought we were going to beat them all week before it. When you get to Dublin they will play at the top end of their range. We’re going to try and play at ours and see where that brings us.”

It’s not just bullish talk either. While Jim McGuinness’ Donegal are the toast of the GAA world right now, Horan’s two years have been rewarded with two Connacht titles, two All-Ireland semi-finals and a league final appearance.

“We still have a lot to do but we’d be looking for a performance like we know we can give.”

It’s a new Mayo alright.


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