THE counties may have only met four times in the last 20 years in the Connacht championship, but James Horan says his team are expecting Leitrim to come out with all guns blazing at McHale Park next Sunday.
Six years have passed since the sides last met but the Mayo manager believes that the underdogs are formidable and dangerous opponents - “Leitrim had a great battling win over London, they’ll be confident about where they are, they’ll have improved from that game and they’ll be looking forward to coming down to Castlebar and giving it everything they have.
“We’re just getting ourselves ready and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’d be preparing the same way. We just need to put everything we’ve done into a performance against Leitrim.”
It will be eight weeks next Sunday since Mayo were turned over by Cork in the Division 1 League Final. They will be the last team to enter the championship and have spent the last two months working diligently towards beginning the defence of their Connacht title.
“It’s been a long time since we played Cork. I suppose we had an opportunity to review the league in detail, particularly the final, and look at areas that we could improve on.
“We’ve looked at those, and worked on them over the last seven or eight weeks, but we’re bored now. We’re ready to play. We’ve watched other teams playing championship and we feel we’re ready.
“A lot of it was making sure that our strength and conditioning was right because we didn’t want to tire out the players, based on their club commitments as well.”
You wonder if there were any particular lessons that Mayo learned from that League Final defeat back in April?
“We didn’t win enough primary possession around the middle. We were beaten on the breaking ball count quite significantly. If you’re getting beaten there you’re going to struggle in terms of possession. We didn’t have enough possession to win the game. We need to be more competitive there and get all the other basics right too.”
The 40-year-old Mayo manager is preparing to embark on his second championship campaign. So far he has delivered two FBD League titles, a Connacht championship, an All-Ireland semi-final appearance, and a National League Final runners-up spot.
You can only assume that he thinks the project is on target.
“I’d be fairly happy. Last year we had a steady curve that went upwards. We had a few minor blips, in my opinion, but overall we’re a much, steadier and more balanced team this season so far. That has to be progress as well.
“We’ve definitely improved but the championship is yet to start and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”