By Anthony Hennigan
The decision of six members of the Mayo senior football panel to retire from the inter-county game earlier this year came as no surprise to team manager James Horan who despite believing some of them still had something to offer his team, is confident the calibre of player exists to fill the void they have left.
In a matter of a few short weeks during January, goalkeeper David Clarke, defenders Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett and Donal Vaughan, and midfielders Seamus O’Shea and Tom Parsons each announced they had played their last games for the Green and Red. It deprives Mayo this year of what cumulatively amounts to several decades worth of experience but, in what Horan describes as “the natural order of things”, he has stressed the necessity to look forward.
Pointing to the fact that aside from David Clarke and Chris Barrett, most of the retirees were exposed to very little game time last season, something which allowed him to provide valuable minutes to some of the newer, younger members of his squad, the manager reckons that what the Mayo panel will lack in experience heading into the 2021 season will be compensated for in energy and enthusiasm and ambition.
“We had a number of guys who started, Oisin (Mullin), Tommy (Conroy), Eoghan (McLaughlin) and Ryan (O’Donoghue), and they did very well, but we’ve a lot of others. Fionn McDonagh was injured, Mark Moran got an injury having started very well in the league campaign, Eoin O’Donoghue is pushing very, very well, Jack Coyne the same, we’d be really excited about his potential. Padraig O’Hora got in and out for a few games and David McBrien now has a year under his belt, a very athletic, strong player. So even when you look at some of those guys that have been there for a period of time and didn’t get much game time, they’ll be pushing very, very hard this year.”
The manager also confirmed that he and his management team have identified, monitored and had discussions with several more potential newcomers to the Mayo senior football panel. Horan name-checked Garrymore flyer Enda Hession, Jack Carney from Kilmeena, who is still eligible for the Mayo U20 team this year, and Knockmore attacker Aidan Orme who he said was “very, very strong” for his club in their march to the county SFC title. He noted the successful return to action of Colm Moran for Westport, said he was impressed by the athleticism of Luke Doherty and the role he played in Ballina’s march progression to the county semi-finals, and that Conor Igoe had been performing very impressively for Bonniconlon for years. Horan was also encouraged to see Johnny Maughan of Castlebar Mitchels back fit again.
“Obviously we haven’t seen them train yet so we’re just in discussions and looking to see how they can develop over this period but we’re excited about a lot of them and looking forward to working with them. We think they could do huge things at inter-county level.
“There’s lots of players lining up and really working hard during the off-season because when April comes, or whenever we’re back, it’s going to be like a shotgun start so you have to try and get yourself into the best position to get yourself to the top of the grid. When we get back on the field as a group, very quickly you’re going to have to show what you can do.
“I’m very excited about some of the guys who have been there for a year or so, obviously some of the new guys from last year too and some of the fresh crop that we’re looking at. I think they can have a big impact in 2021.”
This is an edited version of an extensive interview with Mayo senior football manager James Horan which is featured in the current print edition of the Western People, available to buy now in all usual local outlets or digitally at www.westernpeople.ie.