MICHAEL SOLAN’S AN infrequent Twitter user. “Not very active” is how he’d describe his experience of the social medium.

At 34 years of age, and manager of an All-Ireland winning team, Solan doesn’t need to log on to a computer or reach for his smartphone to seek approval and affirmation.

The sense of satisfaction that comes with a job well done is very much within Solan following Mayo’s march to EirGrid All-Ireland U21 football glory at the end of April.

One of the big stories following that Mayo win was the cowardly abuse directed at Cork goalkeeper Anthony Casey. 

Solan, while manager of the Mayo team, had sympathy for Casey and believes that he handled the situation extremely well.

“He worked extremely hard to put himself in a position to be the Cork U21 goalkeeper.

“He’s a great lad and any of that sort of stuff that goes on online, it’s not something anybody can control.

Cork goalkeeper Anthony Casey was the victim of Twitter abuse following the All-Ireland U21 final.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It was completely unwarranted but you can’t stop people talking to their computers and typing an opinion that they don’t have to back up.

“It’s not going to cause Anthony Casey any problems – he’s a fantastic goalkeeper with great talent.”

As a manager, Solan knows that he’s there to be shot down if things don’t go well.

But in an age of ‘analysis by paralysis’, he prefers to steer clear of the social media world for the most part.

Regardless of what decision you make, you’re wrong to somebody. If you’re looking for 100 per cent approval, you’d be as well off looking somewhere else.

“Football is a game of opinions and everybody has their own. If you were to tie yourself up worrying…”

Solan prefers not to. A two-time county SFC medallist with his club Ballaghaderreen in 2008 and 2012, he was also an All-Ireland senior B colleges medallist with St Nathy’s in 2000.

In 2014, injury brought the curtain down on his playing career and while Solan’s only experience of a Mayo panel was as a minor, he doesn’t believe that previous inter-county playing experience is a prerequisite if you harbour ambitions of becoming a successful coach.

Solan spent a year working as manager of his home club before cutting his inter-county teeth as coach with the Mayo U21s alongside Niall Heffernan.

Michael Solan celebrates at the end of the All-Ireland U21 final.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

In October 2015, Solan was appointed as successor to Heffernan, who had been in the job for two years.

Less than six months later, Solan had masterminded Mayo’s fifth All-Ireland title in the U21 grade, and their first for a decade.

“We would have realised pretty quickly that it was a pretty significant achievement for the players involved.

“When you’re competing at the higher end of championships, the aim is always to get the job done. It turned out to be very satisfying when that did happen.”

Not that it was straightforward for Mayo. Far from it.

There were a couple of vital one-point victories along the way – the Connacht final against Roscommon and the All-Ireland semi-final win over Dublin both dug out late on.

“The games we played in over the year, a lot of them were topsy-turvy, swinging over and back,” Solan recalls.

“Momentum changes at various times – it was the same in the final. We were a few points down approaching half-time, 0-4 to 0-7, but a bit of a scoring burst put us in a decent position.”

Conor Loftus was a key player for Mayo’s U21s this year.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Mayo bagged a couple of quick-fire goals to turn the game on its head and three more goals in the second half were good enough to get the job done.

The winning margin was five points at full-time, as Conor Loftus and Liam Irwin bagged late majors.

Extra-time still loomed large until Mayo came with another big surge but the experience gained from edging tight games was vital with the final in the balance.

“It’s always very satisfying, especially any time you win by a point,” says Solan.

It’s a very fine line in terms of the balance of the game and we beat both Roscommon and Dublin by a point. When you come out of a tight game or two like that, the next time you’re in that situation, you have the experience of being exposed to it before.

“It allows lads to carry on, to do their jobs at the end of the game, nobody panics and you have that bit of experience.

“Look over the course of the U21 championship – two of the provincial finals (Munster and Connacht) were won by a point, Monaghan won the Ulster final by two and the Leinster final was won by three after extra-time. Very fine margins at the top end of the championship – there wasn’t a whole pile in any of them.”

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Fans will see end results and score-lines, and form their opinions from there.

But for Solan and his players, they’ll remember the small things, a block, tackle, the time that player tracked back.

“A lot of small things,” he smiles.

“They wouldn’t be real stand-out things that would be very noticeable to people watching on TV but 100 small things that we felt would have turned things.

Tackles and blocks that lads would have done that flew under the radar…we had impacts from subs at various different stages. It wouldn’t boil down to any one or two season-defining moments.

“It’s just more a consistent effort from everybody involved, everybody just kept at what we asked them to do, kept going until the final whistle.

“Everybody goes out on the field with the intention of working hard – we were no different.

“That was our aim, to make sure we were an extremely hard-working team – get that as a foundation and build the other blocks with your players, the skills they have, the tactical system you want to implement on any given day. They’re the building blocks to get over the line.

“We were blessed with what every team needs to be successful – talented players and a squad. Regardless of anything else, you need the players.”

While acknowledging that winning an All-Ireland title in an extremely competitive grade is a “fantastic achievement,” Solan doesn’t over-egg it either.

Mayo captain Stephen Coen with his mother Mary after the All-Ireland U21 final victory over Cork.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“Any time you’re winning a national title is great (but) I would say it means as much to Mayo as it would mean to any other county to get it done. I don’t think Mayo are a special case.

“It meant every bit as much to Tyrone last year and any other team over the years.

“As a group and team, we’re incredibly proud we got it done this year. It’s a fantastic achievement but I don’t think we would see it as any more special than any other team.”

From the 2016 squad of 32 players, Solan will be able to call upon 18 of those players again next year.

Captain Stephen Coen is overage, Young Footballer of the year Diarmuid O’Connor too.

David Kenny, Irwin, Loftus and Michael Hall are other players who have served their time in the U21 grade.

“Thats the age grade – always a big turnover from year to year,” says Solan.

“That’s part of what makes it an exciting age grade, the renewal of teams every year, the renewal of the challenge.

“We’ll start off the same as last year, not focusing on the big picture thing.

Diarmuid O’Connor is one of 14 Mayo players overage for the U21 grade next year.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Early in the year, it will be about getting the squad together, the correct building blocks in place and ensure you give yourself the maximum chance of providing a set-up and organisation that players need.

“Our aim isn’t looking to anything to do with championship. We’re playing in the North-West Cup in January – that’s our sole focus at the minute, bedding in the new squad.”

Anecdotally, Solan is renowned for the meticulous nature of his preparation.

He smiles when the description is put to him.

“I don’t think I’d be any different to any other manager – whatever needs to be done.

“You can’t really talk for what the players expect – our aim is to give them the best possible set-up we can give them. That’s certainly our aim as a management team.

“We’re blessed with very good strength and conditioning and medical teams, and that goes a long way towards keeping players fit and on the field.”

Michael’s not the only high achiever in the Solan family. His brother, Barry, is Mayo football’s head of strength and conditioning who’s also working with Arsenal’s first team squad. 

Michael smiles: “There’s only the two of us, two years difference in age.

“We’d be pretty close and have a lot of the same interests as well.

Barry Solan (left) pictured with Mayo senior football team manager Stephen Rochford.

Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He’s very interested in his job, very motivated to get better and it’s no surprise to me or people who know him that he’s doing well for himself and ended up working at a high level in sport.

“He loves it (Arsenal). It’s a bit different to GAA, his work is during the day as opposed to the evenings and he loves the set-up, the experiences, and the daily work he gets to do.”

Michael Solan’s success with the Mayo U21s has helped to heightened the sense of expectation in the county that senior glory will happen sooner rather than later.

Michael himself is wholly optimistic about the future, and is a big fan of senior team manager Stephen Rochford.

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“Obviously based on this year, they’re not very far away at all,” says Solan.

“They’re a fantastic team and have been competitive for the last five or six years.

I would see them as obviously one of the top teams in the country and I still expect them to be in the latter stages of the championship next year. This year, we had a good crossover from senior to U21, and you’d hope that the lads going into senior with an U21 medal, that it would give them a bit of confidence and bringing that into the set-up is good.

“Mayo are extremely lucky with the set-up they have, with the current management.

“I worked closely with Stephen at various points and players graduating from U21 know they’re going into a set-up where they’re going to be pushed on.”

Curses? Not for Solan.

“Nonsense. I wouldn’t have any air-time for that at all. That’s something that barely even merits a mention.”

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