James Horan’s decision to bring the curtain down on an eight-year spell – spread evenly over two four-year tenures – as Mayo manager comes hot on the heels of yesterday’s All-Ireland quarter-final loss to Kerry. That defeat had all the hallmarks of the ending of an era about it and with this afternoon’s announcement, those sentiments have crystallised into hard fact.
When James left the post for the first time in 2014 – also after a loss to Kerry but in very different circumstances, following that combustible night in Limerick – it felt very much as if he’d gone too soon. In his first four years, James had utterly altered the narrative around the Mayo team and had set his sights on goals most of us didn’t believe were achievable. He wanted us at the top table and his aim was to keep us there, year after year.
This time round, even though, like his first coming, he led us to two All-Ireland final appearances in four years, his parting seems like the right move at the right time. James is a man who has taken us so far in his years in charge, to say nothing about his significant contribution as a player before that, but this year in particular it really did look as if he’d taken us as far as he could.
Circumstances this year surely didn’t help. Our crippling injury list meant that plans constantly had to be rejigged and over the last number of months the hits just kept on coming on that score. The lack of key players definitely weakened us this year but, as yesterday showed, we had other issues which meant we weren’t operating at the level we were capable of playing at.
There’s a time for everything and, indeed, for everyone. In his time, James gave us so many good days and was central to the new Mayo narrative that became so much part of the Championship story over the past decade. Like all those warriors who played for him, James surely deserved to have tasted ultimate success as Mayo manager but, of course, sport isn’t like that. Mayo supporters, of all people, know that.
As he steps away, though, James does so knowing that he’s left the place in a far better position than he found it. We might all be down today, out of the final four for just the second time in ten years, but that statistic alone tells the tale of how much James achieved in his time in charge.
But that time is now over. As it ends, it’s only fitting to pay fulsome tribute to the man who, in his own words, sought to make us consistently competitive and, in doing so, gave us some of the greatest days any of us have experienced as supporters of the Mayo team.
Thanks for everything, James, for all those wild, crazy days when following your team felt like the essence of being alive. Those are memories to be treasured and times we’ll all recall fondly. Best wishes to you and your family for the future. Up Mayo.