Mayo captain David Clarke and midfielder Aidan O’Shea have credited James Horan, and the ruthlessness he has brought to his management of the team, as being the springboard for Mayo’s success this season.
Speaking to RTÉ Sport, O’Shea says he knew on his first meeting with Horan that things were going to change.
“I have to be honest and say when James came in, and from what he brought to the whole thing, that there was a different feel about the whole thing and the way we approached things and prepared.
“We saw the ruthless streak and I saw a lot of my friends dropped off the panel.
“I saw for myself that (Horan) was not waiting around for fellas to step up to the plate, that there were other young fellas who would come in and change things.
“That was something that struck me straight away, that he was a ruthless kind of man. That is the kind of environment we are in now, and if you are not ruthless enough to take your chances you’ll be moved off the team and moved off the panel fairly quickly.
“We saw the ruthless streak and I saw a lot of my friends dropped off the panel" - Aidan O'Shea
“The first meeting would probably have been October 2010 and when I met James for the first time - I would not have known him on a personal level, - I knew straight away that something was going to happen. He was not here just to manage Mayo, he was here to win. That was something you could see from the outset.
“He said from the start that if you were not able to buy into the environment he was going to create than you were not going to be part of it. It’s something that all the boys that are here at the moment have bought into.”
O’Shea also noted the similarities between Mayo’s development as a side over the past few seasons and the progress of Sunday’s opponents Donegal.
“Jim McGuinness has done a very good job in Donegal. There are parallels between Mayo and Donegal, and between the two managers as well. The two teams, I suppose, would have been seen as a soft touch a couple of years ago. Both teams have probably come from nowhere in the last couple of years to be in an All-Ireland final this year and I think that’s great for the game.”
O’Shea’s thoughts were echoed by goalkeeper David Clarke, who told RTÉ that Horan’s management has allowed the players to develop both on and off the field.
“He has put in a great backroom team, but it is all there for the players to drive it on. He wants players to question things and ask what we can do better. He wants the players to be able to figure out things.
“There’s nothing really set in stone. It’s there for the players to figure out things on the pitch. He knows that the players are the people that are on the pitch and they have to make the decisions in the heat of the battle.
“The set up he has brought in has helped the players develop as people and develop as footballers.”
Clarke, who took over as captain from the injured Andy Moran, also explained that the players bought in to the changes made after Horan’s appointment.
“You had to buy in to the ethos of James and his management team from the start. Football at this level is hard work, and they are probably James’ favourite words!
“He set it out from very early on in his tenure that people had to put in the hard work, and he had to make the hard decisions if he needed to make them.
“As a bunch of players we really decided that we were the people that needed to drive things on. There was no point in James telling us we’re good or we’re great. We had to start to believe it. The way to believe it is by working hard on the training pitch. That’s where you get your confidence. On the nights away from group training you have to do your physical work so you have more time on the training pitch to concentrate on football.
“These are all things that have helped develop us as a group of players, and a group of people. Football has to be one of the top things in your life, if not the most important thing, but you do reap the rewards.
“There is a bit of luck here and there, but the harder you work the luckier you get.”