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Ryan Byrne/INPHO Cillian O'Connor with manager James Horan after the Connacht semi-final.
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Horan feels Mayo are benefiting without 'anxiety' of crowds
‘It’s a more consistent performance area…when there isn’t crowds.’

IN THE 2013 All-Ireland final between Dublin and Mayo, Andy Moran struck a second-half goal to level the game.

Instead of this key moment giving energy to his team, James Horan could feel an “anxiety” rolling off the Mayo crowd in the Croke Park stands. For a game of such magnitude, there was an eerie silence around the ground. Tension filled the air.

Rather than filling supporters with hope for the closing stages, it was almost as if they were consumed by dread.

A year later, Horan drew some heat for saying the Mayo support did not help their team that afternoon – rather inhibited them by seizing up with the finish line in sight.

So in this unique campaign without the crowds, Horan admits it might be benefiting his team.

“I think so, in a strange type of way but it is a strange type of year,” he says. “For one, communication you can hear. You can even hear on TV the players communicating to one another.

“Unfortunately sometimes you can hear some of the sideline communicating to some of the players, it’s something to be aware of for sure,” he smiles

“But I think that communication is there and even when players are talking to each other it’s sometimes a trigger to reset and get fellas back in the zone. There is definitely a benefit there and I think that’s important.

“There probably isn’t as much emotion swirling around the place, which can sometimes…not that you get caught up in it but crazy stuff happens when there are so many people around the place and people around dressing rooms and all that kind of stuff.

“And sometimes that can add to the anxiety a little bit. So I think it’s a more consistent performance area, if you want to put it that way, when there isn’t crowds. We’re trying to make the most of what we have so at the moment we are happy.”

Youngsters Eoghan McLaughlin, Oisin Mullin and Tommy Conroy have revitalised the team, with other rookies like Mark Moran, Ryan O’Donoghue, Bryan Walsh and Jordan Flynn having impressed at stages too.

“There is a few things to it I suppose, there is the natural evolution of a team, that happens,” Horan says of his new look team.

mark-moran-and-tommy-conroy James Crombie / INPHO Young guns Mark Moran and Tommy Conroy have impressed for Mayo. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“There is nothing like a few injuries to bring on new players as well. Then the way the season went this year, in particular, with the shop window of the club championship, it had a lot of players who really shone through that.

“Then the inter-county season straight after in such a short period after just made it a really interesting dynamic and probably added to a lot of players being involved. The natural order of things is that there has been a strong team there for a number of years.

“Time waits for no man as well, if guys are playing well they will get their shot. It’s all that mix, I suppose, and we are lucky we have a lot of real quality young guys as you’ve seen over the past number of weeks.

“We are just hoping to continue that, we don’t see it as young and old at this stage. The guys are training together, whoever does well plays. That is where we are at.”

Midfielder Mattie Ruane is only in his second campaign and his partner Conor Loftus has been converted to centre-field from the forward line. Of the 21 players that featured in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final loss to Dublin, just nine are likely to see game-time against Tipperary this weekend.

“It’s funny, sometimes you play in a position and your form mightn’t be as good as you wanted,” he says of Loftus, who hails from the same club as Mayo coach Ciaran McDonald.

“Whatever you try doesn’t seem to be working and sometimes you change a position and it can give you freedom, particularly if you’re in a wing position or corner-forward. You’re against the sideline sometimes so it’s more defined whereas if you’re in the middle it can be a more open game, particularly in midfield, you can get on the ball more and you can dictate more where you try to win the ball. I think that’s an element of it.

“But Conor played with Crossmolina this year, and again it’s an outcome of the club championship that he played very well with Crossmolina in the middle of the field and was excellent in a number of games and scored heavily.

“So it’s something we were very aware of and tried it there in a few games and it’s worked very well. He’s a really good footballer, an all round footballer that can play in a number of positions so we’re happy with how things are going.”

ciaran-mcdonald-and-james-burke James Crombie / INPHO Mayo coaches Ciaran McDonald and James Burke. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

A couple of weeks ago Declan Bonner bemoaned the lack of protection given to Michael Murphy from referees and Horan says his own big man Aidan O’Shea suffers similar treatment to the Donegal star.

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“I think Declan’s right, but I think Aidan O’Shea is more of a case in point to be honest, because of his size and frame and how much possession he gets in games.

“His temperament and discipline is unbelievable when you go back through – even go back to the Galway game, some of the physical stuff he got there was in my opinion he should have got a lot more frees.

“It’s sort of nearly because it’s always been the way it’s nearly accepted at this stage. But there definitely is a discrepancy, and maybe it’s human nature. But if there’s a small guy that’s being tackled by a big guy and the small guy falls to the ground, he’s more than likely to get a free than if there’s a small guy tackling a big guy and fouling him.

“It just seems that way for sure. I don’t have any of the science on that but human nature will sort of look at it that way. Ah I think that from Aidan’s point of view, just the discipline and temperament that he shows is phenomenal.”

Finally, Horan says he wasn’t overly surprised to see Tipperary beat Cork in the Munster final to seal a repeat of the 2016 semi-final showdown between the counties.

“I don’t get shocked anymore in football,” he says.

“So much stuff can happen in Gaelic football. Our opponents are a really good team they have shown that for a number of years, they’re strong. A lot of them have been together since minor and they have some very good players and their own way of playing and are very competitive.

“With that game I wasn’t at all surprised, to be honest. As we have done all year, we won’t look too much at what others are doing. We have more than enough ourselves to try and get right and improve and develop and that’s where we will put our energy.”


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