The process leading to the appointment of the next manager of the Mayo senior football team is now underway. Both James Horan – who previously held the post with great distinction between 2010 and 2014 – and Mike Solan, the current U20 manager who also led the county to U21 All-Ireland success in 2016, have been nominated for the position. Inside the next few weeks one of them will be confirmed in the role.
While the exact process for selecting the new manager isn’t entirely clear it’s likely to involve both men sitting down with some kind of selection panel, where their plans, including their proposed backroom teams will be discussed. Once a preferred candidate is identified, either by the selection group or following a recommendation to the County Board Executive, that name will then need to be ratified by the full County Board.
As is clear from the poll that’s still running here on the site, James Horan is the popular choice among supporters. While the numbers in the poll don’t provide definitive proof about whom supporters want to get the job, over 2,000 votes have now been cast and James enjoys 75% support. I think it’s reasonably fair to claim this as statistically significant.
James Horan would be my own clear choice as well. To my mind, the decision that needs to be made isn’t even a close one. By any measure James is by far the more credible candidate.
This is not in any sense a criticism of Mike Solan, who has already started to build an impressive managerial CV. Like many others, I believe he has the potential to be an excellent manager of the senior team in the future. We’ve never done any kind of succession planning on managers within Mayo GAA but it’s never too late to start. A good start would be to plan for Mike’s succession to the top job a bit down the line. But not now.
Those who would sniff at James Horan’s achievements in the job first time round – He took off Alan Freeman! He left Caff on Donaghy! He never won us the All-Ireland! – need to try harder when recalling vignettes about that particular tenure. Because, lest it be forgotten, it was under James Horan that we became a real force in the game and, unlike we’d done previously when we’d made it to finals, in the Horan era we remained in the leading bunch of competitors every year, pushing ever harder for glory.
On the field he built us into an uncompromising, hard-working and utterly determined team. Off the field James injected an unprecedented degree of professionalism and attention to detail into the Mayo set-up.
Consistently competitive was his mantra and in that he delivered year after year. Four Connacht titles on the spin, last four in the championship every year and twice in the final, with victories over the reigning All-Ireland champions three years running. He didn’t, it’s true, get us over the line any year but he delivered results against the top teams in the championship with a regularity we could previously only have dreamt about.
After so many years of underachievement, James Horan got the county’s team and its growing support base marching to a new beat, aiming for ever higher performance. He demanded it of his players and he wasn’t slow to demand it of supporters too, famously chiding us for being too bloody quiet when the fat was in the fire in the 2013 final.
As an avowed Horanista, a small part of me died that heartbreaking night in Limerick when, as we made our weary way homewards, the news broke that James’ tenure as manager was over. It felt in every sense then like he was leaving before the job had been completed.
But times move on. And after the convulsions of the Pat and Noel era, Stephen Rochford steered the team even closer to the Promised Land. Stephen is now, sadly, out of the picture and so the opportunity has opened up once again for James to pitch for the position he held before.
James will know exactly what the job entails and how he’d want to approach it second time around. That much is clear from what he’s said publicly about the challenge, one that you sense he’s already relishing.
He’ll know too that it won’t be a case of simply taking up where he left off four years ago. Time has moved on and, for a number of the warriors who featured so strongly in his previous tenure, it’s on the cusp of running out.
Whoever gets the gig will need to get started on the rebuilding process in 2019. This is not going to be an easy task but one that could, for sure, be safely entrusted with James Horan to oversee. While, of course, all the time sticking to his core philosophy of remaining consistently competitive.
Shortly before the County Board made the rather ballsy decision to appoint a wet-behind-the-ears James Horan to the manager’s job in late September 2010, I wrote the following here on the blog:
If the selection panel is prepared to put petty politics and all the rest to one side on this one crucial decision that could determine so profoundly the direction the county team goes in over the next few years, then there is only way this appointment process can go. It’s a big call for them to make but, if they stand back and take their decision in a dispassionate manner, it should also be an easy one.
The right decision – when it really was a big call to make – was taken to appoint James Horan then. It’s not even a big call this time around. Taking everything into consideration, there’s only one plausible and logical conclusion that can be reached. Which is that, once again, James Horan is the right man for the job.