A few thoughts on what James had to say

Photo: RTÉ

That flurry of coverage generated by James Horan’s interviews with the local media is, I know, a bit old hat by now but I meant to do a piece arising from it and I guess it’s still current enough to do this.

You’ve probably seen the relevant pieces on James’ interviews at this stage but, in case you haven’t, here they are.

Mayo News (thoughts on All-Ireland final, new players, focusing on the football), Mayo Advertiser, Western People (new faces, All-Stars). There’s obviously more than this in the most recent print and digital editions of these papers.

A few broad themes emerge from this thicket of information, on which it’s worth chewing the fat a bit. Sure, what else is there to do?

The first and most obvious point relates to the significant turnover in the playing squad over the past year. A number of new faces like Oisín Mullin, Eoghan McLaughlin, Ryan O’Donoghue, Tommy Conroy and the rest became integral to the team within a short space of time last year but it’s clear that James is keen to introduce still more new talent into the senior ranks this year.

It remains to be seen how many of the lads that he name-checked in the interviews actually make the match-day 26 this year, let alone the first fifteen. What last year demonstrated, though, is that James is ready to give new talent a go and then it’s up to the fresh faces to make the most of the opportunity they’ve been handed.

2021 will be the third year of James’ second tenure as manager. It’s tempting to compare and contrast with the Horan I era, which, if you do, sees this year lined up against 2013.

Back in 2013 we were arguably the closest we ever came over the past decade to being the best team in Ireland. The disembowelling that summer of both Galway and Donegal showed a ruthlessness in our ranks that most of us had never seen in a Mayo team before and part of me still can’t understand how we let that year’s final slip through our fingers. We were definitely good enough to win it.

Back in 2011 James inherited a relatively young Senior squad and a number of those players who would become mainstays for him had already made their Senior Championship debuts. The players he added, though, were crucial to the plot, as he brought through the likes of Lee Keegan and Cillian O’Connor and recalled to the ranks Colm Boyle and Mickey Conroy.

2011 was very much a learning process for that group of players. 2012 arguably was too, though by now Horan’s team was getting close to the level at which he wanted them performing. In 2013, the team by now to all intents and purposes a settled one, performance levels rose again.

This time round, the lifecycle of the team is very different. James largely kept with the older experienced lads in 2019 before pivoting to an all-out push for new talent last year. This means that, as we await the start of this year’s action, the team is far from settled. Most of us, in truth, would struggle to make any kind of decent stab at what James’ preferred starting fifteen might be.

Which leads us on to a different point. Covid is still, depressingly, the central factor in all of our lives and it’s set to be a major influence on a second successive season of GAA action. We don’t even know yet what this year’s inter-county season will look like but the smart money appears to be firming up behind a shortened League campaign and another old-fashioned straight knockout Championship.

James is right, then, to say that there’s likely to be a “shotgun start” to the season and he’s also correct to pinpoint the need for his team to hit the ground running. With maybe only three or four League games and then the danger that every day you play in the Championship it’ll be your last outing for the year, if the team isn’t tuned in for every game then the season will come and go very quickly.

Last year also showed that if a player picks up any kind of knock, that could be it for the year for him. That was the fate that befell Fionn McDonagh, Bryan Walsh and Mark Moran last year and injuries of a similar kind are almost certain to be a feature again this summer. We can only keep our fingers crossed on that one.

A final point that I thought was very interesting was what James had to say about the impending MacHale Park development. Now that all that’s wrong about the pitch is out in the open, it’s ever more clear how the leaden playing surface there has often hobbled us so profoundly down the years.

If you look back over the past decade, there are precious few examples of an outstanding Mayo performance in a game played at MacHale Park. Of course, we’ll always be aiming to time our peak form each year for when we get to Croke Park but all those sub-par displays on home turf had to have had a debilitating effect and, more than once, defeat in a key match at MacHale Park made it far harder for us to make it to HQ at all.

It’s a sobering fact to note that the most recent time we beat Galway at MacHale Park in the Championship was way back in 2014, while our most recent Connacht victory at the venue over Roscommon was the previous year. A faster playing surface, one far better suited to the style of football we play, should at least increase our chances of improving on that less-than-stellar record against two counties who, let’s not forget, now play League football in a higher Division than we currently do.

The development work on the pitch won’t, though, start until after we’ve finished playing whatever League and Championship games we’re rostered to fulfil at MacHale Park this year. We played both Galway and Roscommon away in Connacht last year so it’s likely that we’ll have to play one or other (or both) of them at home if we’re to retain the Nestor Cup this year.

Which begs what, in these pandemic times, might be viewed as an obvious question – is there a better home venue we could use instead this year? All the matches will be played behind closed doors so ground capacity isn’t a consideration. What pitch in the county has a playing surface that’s closest to what we’re aiming to get MacHale Park to? It’s at least arguable that wherever that is should be the place we call home this year. It’s not as simple as all that, I know, but if there’s a chance we could be able to turn this situation to our advantage, then surely that’s something we’d do well to explore.

16 thoughts on “A few thoughts on what James had to say

  1. We should forfeit home advantage in the championship this year on the basis that whoever we play in Connaught play us in McHale Park for the next two championship games. Cork and Kerry agreed a similar format over the last few years.

  2. Interesting question about the home venue. Not simple as you say and I’d imagine unlikely for a home game to be played outside of MacHale but Connacht COE pitches would be more in line with the type of one Horan is looking for.

  3. I’d imagine that there are a few pitches in the county which boast better surfaces than MacHale Park does at present. In my young days [not so recent] Charlestown was famous as a reliable surface, esp. in winter. I recall college games played there in horrendous weather. Ballina, Crossmolina and Ballinrobe also have, I believe , excellent ground conditions.
    It would , I believe, be essential that the players be familiar with whatever grounds we choose to use which would mean training there on a regular basis. Since club football would not betaking place at the same time as county, whatever about club training, this should not be a major problem.
    Another issue regards renovation MacHale Park is that the work needs to be done in good conditions. Working soil in bad weather is a waste of time at best and at worst could leave things worse than when they started. I have been involved in a major club ground renovation and our contractor, who happens to be one of the top grounds contractors in the country, would stop work when he considered the weather unsuitable. So there is no guarantee that work would start or be finished according to whatever plan is put in place. After all, no farmer would consider tilling waterlogged soil.

  4. As for intercounty pitches surface wise in Connacht, Pearse Stadium is a carpet in the Summer time and Dr Hyde Park is equally good … Many is the time I walked on both or ran, after Championship games, especially if we won .. Better surface than Croke Park!

  5. If we want to get out of Connacht, McHale Park should be dug up straight away, once Covid-19 restrictions allow it.
    Then we won’t be able to play (lose) any more matches there.
    Another benefit we will get from that, (or the official reason for doing so) is that work can be done as the weather is heading into Summer. From the end of April right through May, June, July and August is when the work should be done. As AndyD said, the work needs to be done in good conditions.
    There are many pitch surfaces in Mayo better than McHale, but certainly, giving home advantage to Galway or Roscommon, in the championship, would not worry me.

  6. Bad decision waiting to play games this year. The job should be started in the next month and if it was we would be able to play our games there next spring. It would give grass time to grow this summer. Crowds will be allowed back to games hopefully by then but if job isn’t started soon supporters are going to be very disappointed after no games for 2 years when crowds are allowed back next year and only a small fraction of our supporters can attend in Ballina, Charlestown or other grounds.

  7. Amazing how Castlebar Mitchell’s had to maintain McHale Park on only 1 league games when they owned it and no one nearly all club games are played there
    When is the County Board lease up?

  8. There is likely to be very little prep time before start of league and probably only three league games- it will be very hard for new players to break into the team this year.
    I was glad to hear James mention Eoin o Donoghue – still think he has what it takes.

  9. Jr – I could be wrong but I believe it’s a 99 year lease. Mitchell’s have done very well out of the deal and rake in the cash generated from the shops at the back of the stand on match day. Other clubs could only dream of that sort of revenue streams

  10. Yew_tree I thought it was 40 yrs. Car parking seems to be taking over by the county board which is a big loss of income to the Mitchell’s

  11. What car parking are you on about, Jr. I’m unaware of any pay parking in the vicinity of MacHale Park and I’ve been early to quite a few games. Yes, there is sometimes a charge on parking in part of the old Bacon factory grounds but it seems that is shared between Mitchel’s and Castlebar Celtic which tells me that that is private property with the owners allowing the clubs to use it for their benefit. I

  12. Charlestown I would choose. The players are used to it and they’d have their eye in better on the open goals away from the road. Harder to shoot into an open goalposts with no surrounds.

  13. Jesus, was there anything James wouldn’t talk about in those interviews?
    I love to hear of new faces coming along. However, you are right to be a bit cautious Willie Joe. Being name-checked by JH hasn’t worked out for everyone. Wasn’t Brian Gallagher the ‘real deal’ at one time?

  14. I would say about the young lads they have more pace and skill than we seen before. Would they give you much confidence helping around a cattle crush dosing wild bullocks? Early for that yet, not into their man strength yet.

  15. On the other hand (replying to myself here, and JP!), scores from most of our players if you exclude Cillian, Diarmaid, and Tommy Conroy, have been few and far between – new and old.

    This is a worry, and goes back to the old taunt from all and sundry – Mayo have no scoring forwards. Even our famed half-back line was thin enough last year; yes, Paddy had a few, but dropped a lot short, Coen and McLaughlin little or nothing. Recall Donie V, Boyler, Leroy, Paddy all bombing forward, and getting goals, not just points, and getting them in crucial games. Them’s the video clips on which the newbies and wannabes need to be whiling away their lockdown hours!

  16. Andy there is plenty of space around the ground and an Spórtlann that could be used for paid parking. Look how much Navan make from parking

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