GAA Football

Championship schedule is 'crazy' says James Horan after Mayo exit to dazzling Dubs

James Horan's Mayo lost out to Dublin at the All-Ireland semi-final stage on Saturday night - just seven days after as gruelling battle with Donegal in Castlebar. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

MAYO boss James Horan admitted the quick turnaround between All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final caught up with them at Croke Park on Saturday night, calling the current Championship scheduling “crazy”.

His men led by two points at half-time following an enthralling first half, but were railroaded by a Dublin blitzkrieg after the break as two goals from Con O’Callaghan helped them turn that deficit into a six-point lead inside seven minutes.

That was extended to 10 before Mayo eventually got their first score of the second half - a Lee Keegan goal - in the 52nd minute, the Dubs eventually coasting across the line as their opponent’s legs tired.

Considering the run of tough games they have had – Roscommon, Down, Armagh, Galway, Kerry, Meath and Donegal – it is hardly a wonder Mayo struggled to keep pace with a Dublin side that had barely broken sweat en route to the last four.

And Horan admitted that having to play an All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin, just seven days after emptying the tank in Castlebar, was asking too much.

“It’s hard to say for sure but if you think about the journey we’ve been on this year, and apply any common sense to it, the turnaround that they’re asking amateur players to do is crazy,” said the Ballintubber man.

“I didn’t really mention it all year, I’m not at all using it as an excuse, but we’re coming back from games at 2am in the morning, guys are at work on a Monday, and just what we’re asking players to do is very, very tough.”

Trying to galvanise a group of Mayo players to go again, having found themselves so far short of the best team in the country, is the challenge that faces Horan as he looks ahead to the second year of his second stint at the helm.

“Of course it will be hard,” he said.

“There’s no question there will be changes in that Mayo group next year, that’s clear. That’ll take its own course. But we’ve a huge amount of young players and new players involved this year, if we use that right then today’s a real learning to see where the top standard is.

“We have to use it that way, otherwise it’s a hopeless cause.”

For Jim Gavin the ‘drive for five’ continues apace, though Dublin did look decidedly uncomfortable at times in the first half as Mayo brought an intensity they hadn’t yet been faced with so far this year.

However, the 1995 All-Ireland winner gave little credence to suggestions his side initially struggled to get to the pitch of serious Championship battle after easing their way into the last four.

“Emm… I’d need to look back on that.

“I thought it was nip and tuck, obviously they’ve had a number of games, probably a bit more battle-hardened. But that’s probably just an excuse to be honest – Mayo are a good team.

“You might be searching for something that possibly isn’t there. I’d put it down to just Mayo’s class. They performed really well in those opening exchanges, and our guys adapted to those circumstances really well.

“We showed good game composure to stick in the game and push on when required.”

Their barnstorming start after the break effectively ended the game as a contest, and Gavin was quick to hail the “adaptability” of his players to change the pace of the game and put Mayo to the sword.

“The message at half-time was to keep doing what you’re doing,” he said.

“This is an All-Ireland semi-final against an outstanding team, both defences were on top in the first half. Naturally enough it opens up and we asked the guys just to back themselves and believe in the skill-set that they have and try to be true to that.

“That’s what they did and that’s where those scores came from. That was the learning from the first half. They showed great adaptability in the game.

“The players themselves are a very humble group, they prepared very well for the opposition. We obviously know Mayo very well after the last number of years and understand what an outstanding team they are.

“That shone through in how we adapted during the game.”

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