A few days after Mayo’s seismic win over Dublin, a media gathering was hastily convened in MacHale Park. The Castlebar stadium has rarely looked so desolate. The grass has been burned off as part of an extensive re-laying of the pitch. The coffee kiosks were bolted. Birdlife habituated the covered stand.
It was among the empty bleachers that James Horan stood contemplating what stands, so far, as his finest managerial hour. And you could tell that the Ballintubber man had already travelled many miles away from that victory since. The great Larry Bird line best reflects Horan’s approach to bettering Mayo: ‘I never wonder. And I never look back.’
The next step for Horan began not long after Dublin’s long reign had ended.
“You get about 15 or 30 seconds after the game where you enjoy it and your head kind of races forward after that to be honest,” he conceded. “Ah look it was brilliant. We’ve challenged Dublin for a long time so to beat them is important for us and for the development of the group.”
In work or general life it is very rare you get something that is so pure and so honest
Stoicism has been Horan’s guiding light since he became the leftfield choice to manage Mayo in 2011. As the questions flew about the stand, he thought for a second before responding to the idea that you need to be obsessive to take charge of such a big football entity.
“I don’t know if it is an obsession. You definitely need to be a bit mad so borderline obsession is probably fair. But I love what I am doing. It is not too often you have a bunch of guys pulling the same way trying to improve and grow without any major complications.
“In work or general life it is very rare you get something that is so pure and so honest. So delighted to be part of that and try and help in some way to make it happen. There is madness and stubbornness, which are important from a manager’s point of view.”
When Horan was speaking, Mayo’s All-Ireland final opponents had yet to be decided. The controversy over the Covid-enforced delay felt far away from Mayo. It wasn’t something that Horan had given much thought to, other than to say that he believed the GAA had reached the right decision in delaying the game.
“I think probably overall it would be the right thing to do. I just can’t imagine a team getting a bye into an All-Ireland final. I am not sure any team wants that. But it is delicate. What if a team gets one or two cases? Do we kick everything to touch? There is that danger at club level. But I think in the interests of fairness it was the right call.”
Mayo were hit with a Covid outbreak before they played Leitrim in the Connacht championship so Horan could empathise with the logistical nightmare it imposes.
“It’s very tough. The training beforehand . . . the weekend of the Leitrim game we were tested the Friday, the Saturday. We were tested Sunday morning and we had split the team into three different groups so they couldn’t inter-mingle before the game until the results came back. And all that kind of stuff. That is crazy compared to normal preparation. Then there is obviously how healthy and strong the players are feeling. So it is far from ideal for sure.”
The concern has lessened now that the entire Mayo squad have gone through the vaccination process. The voracious energy behind Tyrone’s extra-time win over Kerry last Saturday has produced a tantalising All-Ireland final that promises to be less a match than a head-on collision. Horan smiled when asked if, in this whole project, winning an All-Ireland title is the be all and end all.
“It would certainly be nice. We’ll stick to what we are doing. Absolutely, looking forward to winning games. But for two years we have been growing and developing every week and that is our focus and what we will keep on doing. Obviously we have plans to win as much as we can but growth and development is a huge focus in the day to day.”
Horan’s even disposition has acted as a calming device through a mad football decade for the county. The big wins have been kept in context – as have the epic, hyper-dramatic defeats the county has endured. Covid obviously kept the squad at a remove last winter. But throughout this summer they have gone about the business of showing up again in a low key manner.
“We have a lot of well wishers in Mayo but the sessions we have are great reference points for us all,” he says about absorbing the latest welling of expectation.
“It is just the group together and we can manage our stuff from there. There is great goodwill out there and we appreciate it and are very aware of it but it’s important that we just keep on doing our thing.”
Perhaps it helps, too, that they have been on the road, moving from pitch to pitch around the county for their weekly training sessions, relying on the kindness of strangers and all that. Setting up an inter-county session is a huge operation – unpacking all the equipment, the gear, the food, the water.
“We have a big van,” Horan explains with a touch of mischief when asked how they manage to do it on a touring basis. “ So we can fill a lot of stuff in that. Liam Ludden is in charge of that and is in two or three hours before us and has it everything set up. It is a fairly slick operation at this stage. So it doesn’t matter where we train.”
That’s been the mantra always. Get on with it. Get better. By mid-afternoon, the interviews were over and the only sign of life in MacHale Park – beating heart of Mayo football and all that – was a big digger up at the Bacon Factory End. The Mayo football team had gone underground again.
The Government should buy a number of privately-owned direct provision centres as a “priority” as it would be more “cost effective” for the State to run the facilities for asylum seekers, international protection officials have said.
The savings arising from owning the accommodation centres rather than paying private contractors to do so “could be considerable”, departmental briefing documents provided to Minister for Children and Integration Roderic O’Gorman last year state.
The vast majority of direct provision centres are currently owned and run by private companies, with accommodation providers having received some €1.6 billion since 1999, including €183 million last year.
The latest figures show some 7,150 people are in the system of seven State-owned sites and 39 private centres. A further 24 commercially-owned premises are being used to provide emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.
The briefing document, released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act, says that housing people seeking asylum in State-owned centres would provide the “best protection from the vulnerability of present market reliance”.
“They are also much more cost efficient to run, and the State owns the asset,” it notes.
The document suggested that State centres should aim to accommodate 5,000 people, and “allowing the private sector to supply the rest is regarded as an achievable and reasonable target”.
The purchase of existing centres from private providers “to immediately boost the State’s footprint in this area should be considered as a priority,” the internal document said.
“Some service providers may be open to this and the market appears to be favourable at present,” it said.
The internal briefing suggested the department could then seek private companies or NGOs to run the centres, which would be a “competitive cost option”.
Ongoing maintenance for centres owned by the State was also “badly needed,” as current pressures on the Office of Public Works (OPW) meant it was not possible “for immediate repairs to be done if required”.
“In exploring the model of more State centres, we need to agree and acquire a capital budget,” the briefing stated.
“State land does not require planning permission for new centres as the Minister has a power under the Acts, whereby the OPW can grant the planning permission and this is usually a three-month process. It is not subject to appeal.”
The document says that State centres “can also have a bigger footprint as it will be a permanent fixture in the locality”. In recent years a number of plans for private providers to open direct provision centres in regional towns have been met with protests from locals and anti-immigration activists.
Mr O’Gorman’s department has sought to reform the direct provision system and is seeking to replace the network of centres with a new system of accommodation and supports by the end of 2024.
A department spokesman confirmed the State has not bought any new centres since the briefing note was written. The spokesman said under the planned overhaul of direct provision, asylum-seekers who arrived into the country would initially be housed in a number of reception and integration centres.
Asylum-seekers will spend a maximum of four months in the reception centres before moving into housing secured through Approved Housing Bodies.
“These centres will be State-owned and purpose built to provide suitable accommodation for approximately 2,000 people at any one time, to cater for the flow-through of the 3,500 applicants over a 12-month period,” he said.
Attached by a strap to a safety lanyard, 27-year-old Nathan Paulin slowly progressed barefoot on a line stretched across the river between the Eiffel Tower and the Chaillot Theatre.
He stopped for a few breaks, sitting or lying on the rope.
Paulin holds an umbrella as he performs, for the second time, on a 70-metre-high slackline spanning 670 metres between the Eiffel Tower and the Theatre National de Chaillot. (Photo by Sameer Al-DOUMY / AFP)
“It wasn’t easy walking 600 metres, concentrating, with everything around, the pressure … but it was still beautiful,” he said after the performance on Saturday.
He said obtaining the necessary authorisations had been a difficulty for him, plus “the stress linked to the audience, the fact that there are a lot of people”.
Photo: (Photo by THOMAS COEX / AFP)
Paulin, holder of several world records, performed the feat to celebrate France’s annual Heritage Day – when people are invited to visit historic buildings and monuments that are usually closed to the public.
He said his motivation was “mainly to do something beautiful and to share it and also to bring a new perspective on heritage, it is to make heritage come alive”.
He had already crossed the River Seine on a tightrope, on Heritage Day in 2017.