This weekend will see a number of football managers under varying levels of pressure to produce the right results. With provincial finals and the next round of the qualifiers at stake, the men in the hotseats will come under scrutiny as media and supporter’s expectations mount.
James Horan could well have done without the Conor Mortimer saga that has made national headlines all week. His omission has sparked mass debate, and a family statement claiming that he has repeatedly ignored Mortimer’s home club Shrule Glencorrib only adds to the drama. After a facile win over Leitrim, Horan goes into Sundays decider with Sligo without a real test so far this summer. Sligo have no such problems, and will take to Hyde Park in full confidence after their impressive display against Galway last time out. After leading Mayo to provincial glory last season, and defeating All-Ireland champions Cork in the quarter-finals with an impressive brand of football, Horan was hailed as the man to take Mayo football to a new level. They reached the national league final this year, but defeat on Sunday would be seen as a major step backwards. Mayo would appear to be the stronger team on paper, but that will not bother the men from the Yeats County as they go in search of only their fourth ever fourth provincial crown.
For all the silverware he has helped bring to the Kingdom, Jack O’Connor is a man under the microscope. After the disappointment of last year’s final heartache to Kerry, the patchy form in the league was to be expected. The below par form display against Tipperary was attributed to the opposition, but the performance against Cork has really highlighted the dip in form. With an ageing defence, a midfield that has struggled since the departure of Darragh O’Se and an attack that yielded just 12 points against the Leesiders, O’Connor is going through a period of transition. Bryan Sheehan returns to midfield after injury, while Donnacha Walsh bolsters the attack. It would be a shock of major proportions if Westmeath were to pull off a win in Mullingar on Sunday, but for their own aspirations this summer, Kerry will need to show that there is more left in the team than many pundits are suggesting.
Like his counterpart in Mayo, Kieran McGeeney is having to deal with matters off the pitch as much as on it. The transfer of Seanie Johnston to Kildare has been in the spotlight for the past couple of months, and his 45 second cameo involvement for Coill Dubh hurlers to become eligible for Kildare was a farcical moment for the GAA. McGeeney has not included Johnston in the panel for what would have been a hostile return to Breffni Park as the Lilywhites look to rescue their season in the qualifiers. After building his squad over the past few seasons, Kildare had been tipped as a team to threaten the “big three” of Dublin, Cork and Kerry but Meath’s six point win in the Leinster semi-final came as a surprise to many. McGeeney will now hope that his charges will recover, and should have enough to see Cavan. Failure to do so will undermine a lot of the work that has gone into getting Kildare mentioned as All-Ireland contenders.
Mickey Harte has had to deal with pressures far greater than anything sport related, and the week’s events in Mauritius will be difficult to put to one side. However if ever there was a team and a manager that has had to face adversity and heartache, it is Tyrone and Mickey Harte. On Saturday in Dr.Hyde Park Roscommon will face the three time All-Ireland champions as they continue to rebuild their team following injuries and retirements. Harte suggested that there will be as many as six or seven different players that defeated the Rossies by eleven points in last season’s qualifier. He must plan without Sean Cavanagh, Kevin Hughes and Kyle Coney will not feature, and it is another test for the Red Hand as the overhaul from the most successful panel in their history is ongoing.