Captain Coen ready for EirGrid under 21 decider
By Cian O'Connell
Challenging perceptions has become part and parcel of the Mayo football story.
An EirGrid All Ireland under 21 decider with Cork is imminent, and captain Stephen Coen is able to locate the words to capture what Michael Solan’s team have achieved during the current campaign.
Wins over Leitrim, Roscommon, and Dublin have been registered so previous All Ireland records don’t matter to this determined bunch. “I think every Championship is a new journey,” Coen commented. “It's important that we focus on our own and focusing on our own game is all that we're doing.
“We're not focusing on any other team. We're trying to write our own history. We're not really concerned about what's happened before at any age-level, because every year is different, every game is different. It's just about trying to focus on the performance this weekend.”
Coen reckons Cork have acquired belief and momentum also. “I suppose Cork's win against Monaghan and their win against Kerry instilled a belief in them too. It's going to be two teams with great belief in themselves, so it's going to be a cracking game.”
Solan’s steely approach ensured Mayo coped during a fluctuating encounter with Dublin at the penultimate stage. “We normally think similarly from the first minute to the last minute,” Coen said.
“I know that's cliched, but our managers have instilled that belief in us and we'll never give up. No matter if we're winning or losing, we'll play with that same attitude. So things don't change for us really to be honest. We just try to keep our composure as much as possible.”
Mayo have finished strongly with late bursts to beat both Roscommon and Dublin. “I suppose we backed ourselves and the hard work we've done on the training field, we've done a lot of that hard conditioning work over the years. So it's stood to us now, thankfully.”
Diarmuid O’Connor remains an influential figure for Mayo according to Coen. “Diarmuid is a great player for us and a great ambassador for Mayo football.
“He showed a lot of leadership for us this year and in order for us to be successful we need him to be performing, no more than anyone else. He showed his real class and character the last day and hopefully he can pull out some sort of performance like that this weekend as well.
“There is great camaraderie, great friendships made. I think that was obvious in the way we stuck together on the pitch. I think it's the key ingredient for any team to be successful.”
Three years ago Mayo were crowned All Ireland minor champions, but Coen isn’t placing too much emphasis on that success ahead of the Cork clash.
“I don't think it's relevant, to be honest. It's a totally new set-up, new management, I'd say about 50 per cent of the squad is new so we're trying to write our own story this year and make our own success. We set out a goal at the start of the year and hopefully we'll try to achieve that this weekend.
“I suppose in any final you learn from trying to close out a game or claw a game back. So in your own head I think it's the pressure that you put on yourself. And when the game gets into a melting pot, it's dealing with that pressure. I suppose when you've dealt with that pressure before it helps when you're going into a big game like this. Well, hopefully it will anyway.
"I think it's going to be a very different occasion. It's going to be a smaller crowd, but probably even more of an atmosphere. The stadium wouldn't have been full when we were playing in the minor.
“It'll be totally different game, a different team, a different age-group. Guys with different skills and powers. So I'm not really expecting much in terms of similarities to be honest.”
Coen highlighted Solan’s relationship with senior manager Stephen Rochford which has helped those involved in both panels; Coen, O’Connor, Michael Hogan, Conor Loftus, and David Kenny.
“In fairness to Stephen Rochford and Michael Solan they've got a great communication there. They'd never ask too much of guys who are in both panels. I think it's been a great relationship this year and that's really allowed us to progress with the U-21s.
“So there's about four or five of us. A lot of the guys in our squad would be hoping to impress and they've impressed over the last few weeks and will hopefully try to impress a bit more this weekend.
“I suppose it's a shop window for the senior management to have a look at players in this sort of championship. So hopefully a few boys will make the progression this year as well.”
Retaining Allianz Football League Division One status means it has been a satisfactory spring for Mayo at senior level. “I think in fairness to Stephen he's allowed a lot of guys to play. And it's very important that guys get game-time.
“Guys need to prove themselves and be given the chance to prove themselves. I think there were 35 players who played for Mayo in the League this year, and I don't think that many would have consistently played in previous years.
“So I think we've done well securing our Division 1 status which is vital for any county at that level. I think it's been successful enough looking back on it.” Claiming All Ireland under 21 silverware is the latest challenge being embraced by Coen.