James Horan looks on in Ruislip in 2011. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
London Calling

'My management career would have been over. I was thinking, 'This can't be happening''

Former Mayo manager James Horan looks back on a chastening day in London.

Updated 07.50

JAMES HORAN’S CHAMPIONSHIP career as a manager was very nearly over before it started.

In his first championship game as Mayo manager, Horan watched on from the Ruislip dugout in disbelief. It was a horror show. He describes it as his ‘Rory McIlroy at Augusta’ moment.

A London side, that finished eighth in Division 4 of that year’s Allianz League, and without a championship win since 1977, came agonisingly close to completing one of the great shocks in May 2011.

“We were lucky as hell to get out of there that day,” Horan recalls. “We were a couple of points down reaching full time. Trevor Mortimer and Kevin McLoughlin kicked two points to bring us level, I think a minute or two into injury time.

“That got us into extra time then and we kicked on from there, but not without a few scares as well. Lucky to get out of there, lucky to survive it.

“Certainly as a manager, I was lucky to survive it. It would have been over, no question. I would have picked up that vibe from officials that might have been there, make no mistake about it. It was fairly clear.”

Trevor Mortimer with Sean McVeigh Trevor Mortimer captained Mayo in 2011. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Fast forward a year and Horan had guided Mayo to Croke Park and an All-Ireland final. A Michael Murphy-inspired Donegal prevailed on that occasion, but it was undoubtedly the highlight of Horan’s reign.

Looking back, he insists that humbling day in London was the turning point.

“I think everyone learned from that where things were at, where we were at as a team,” he says. “Logistically and everything around it, was off that day.

“It was out of control, it was bordering out of control. I think the crowd around as well, the noise or the din you could pick it up. The players weren’t sure what was happening either and we were just hanging on, hoping.

“Even after the game because it went to extra time, we couldn’t do the warm-down properly because we had officials coming out through the warm-down to tell us that we’d be late for the plane. Everything was mad, from how we got over.

“We went from Castlebar to Galway, from Galway on a connection flight to Waterford, Waterford to somewhere I don’t know where it was and a two hour bus journey then to Watford. We went from Watford then to our hotel; and that was the day before.

“Everything about it definitely shaped us as a management team as well and what we did from there.”

Mayo returned home with their championship lives intact and went onto earn provincial glory with a narrow two-point win in the Connacht final over Roscommon.

James Horan Horan stepped from his role in August 2014. Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

During his four years in charge, Horan guided the Westerners to four Connacht titles and two All-Ireland finals.

Mayo open their 2016 championship campaign this weekend in London but he believes the current side won’t have any troubles in negotiating the first hurdle this time around.

“No I don’t think there will be a repeat this time,” he says, laughing. “I think Mayo are in a very different place to 2011. I think they’ll be organised.

“I suppose a lot of the team would have gone through the experience of 2011 so they’ll be ready for travelling and playing a game on foreign shores so I’d expect them to pull through that quite comfortably.

“That day we played London, they were superb. Paul Geraghty from Galway in the middle of the field, absolutely ran the show. Lorcan Mulvey from Cavan at centre half forward. They’re top class players and they put it to us.

“This time I think the team [Mayo] are so structured, so organised and experienced now that I can’t see any of the things we encountered back then happening again to be honest.”

– An earlier version of this article stated that Mayo beat Galway in the 2011 Connacht final; they beat Roscommon. Horan managed Mayo to four Connacht titles and two All-Ireland finals.

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