herald

Saturday 21 September 2019

For Mayo the same old scenic route but it's all new for Horan

James Horan. Pic: Sportsfile
James Horan. Pic: Sportsfile

THE Mayo GAA Blog is a good place to start when assessing the mood of the green-and-red nation. Especially after another painful, avoidable defeat.

When it comes to the above, Mayo had every conceivable copyright even before Kevin McLoughlin stood nervously over that free - one that he didn't particularly want to take, if body language tells us anything.

And so the Rossies celebrated like there was no tomorrow - and for Mayo the only 'tomorrow' is another uncertain trawl through the booby-trapped terrain of 'back door' no-man's-land.

Even some Mayo diehards are doubting their capacity for another epic detour. So you could decipher from the posters on mayogaablog.com.

Meanwhile, Fourgoal McGee's blog summed up the madness of Mayo thus: "We are a team that learns and forgets quickly in equal measure. When we get beaten, we pick ourselves up quickly. We seem to learn from what went wrong.

"But as soon as all seems right, we make the same mistakes all over again. And it is this madness of riding the same roller coaster all the time and expecting a different result that is driving the entire county to distraction."

Self-inflicted

Now the onus is on James Horan to oversee the "picking up" ... but will he learn? He should do so, if only because so many wounds (kick-out strategy, defensive protection, freetaking, a chance conversion of well under 50 per cent, substitution policy) were self-inflicted and obvious.

But here's the thing: this qualifier malarkey may be second nature to his players, but it's all-new terrain for Horan and his selectors. In his first coming he won four Connachts in a row. No need for mid-summer crisis summits or strategic overhauls.

But whereas Stephen Rochford could bounce ideas off Donie Buckley (a seen-it-all coach) and Tony McEntee (an All-Ireland winning player), Horan's support team of James Burke, Daniel Forde and Martin Barrett are new to inter-county management and the requirements of a week-on-week qualifier campaign.

They still have over three weeks to regroup. Then it's pedal-to-the-metal, week on week, without a safety belt.

To this observer, while dropping Robbie Hennelly may erode his battered confidence even more than Saturday's latest horror, the manager can't afford to think beyond the team's immediate survival prospects. David Clarke has always been the safer pair of hands; he should be recalled.

Concessions

Likewise, Horan must reconsider how best to utilise Keith Higgins and offer protection to his full-back line. The similar goal concessions against Cormac Costello in February and now Cathal Cregg highlighted a weakness for giving opponents a run on the outside channel.

But Higgins' many enduring qualities - his front-foot dynamism and football IQ - remain vital to the team, either at half-back and/or sweeping.

As for their free-taking woes, they extend beyond McLoughlin's 'clutch kick' calamity or the earlier three long-range misses by Hennelly or Jason Doherty's bad wide.

The image of skipper Diarmuid O'Connor calling McLoughlin over and ushering away the more willing Conor Loftus encapsulated Mayo's clouded thinking. By then, Horan had removed his two main free-takers (Doherty and the favoured 'leftie', Evan Regan). He must share in the flak.

Even if his sky-high freetaking stats have dipped in recent years, Cillian O'Connor's return can't come quickly enough.

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