After missing out on making it to the last four of the league back in the Spring, it has been a long wait for the Mayo to get to back into competitive action. On Sunday, they are looking to put together back-to-back Connacht titles after dethroning Galway last year and putting an end to the Tribeswomen's quest for a five-in-a-row dreams.
The league saw Mayo win three of their seven games finishing up in fifth place in the table, just missing out on a place in the last four of the competition. In those games Frank Browne's side faced the Tribeswomen in the opening round of the league back on the last Sunday in January and came up just short going down, 2-8 to 1-10. Cora Staunton was Mayo's scorer in chief that day, bagging 1-8 of Mayo's total. Mayo picked up wins against Armagh in round three of the league in mid February, but it would be April before they got another win, this time seeing off Dublin by a single point on a score line of 1-10 to 1-9 and they followed that up in the following round with a 3-9 to 2-11 win over Kerry.
While the lost four of their seven games, Mayo weren't that far away in most of them going down to Galway by one point, Monaghan by a single point again, league winners Cork saw them off by seven, with Donegal winning a high scoring encounter 4-13 to 2-11 in their other league outing. That Donegal game was Mayo's last competitive encounter and it took place on April 5, leaving Mayo 89 days without a competitive outing or just under three months, if Mayo go all the way to the All Ireland final which is in 85 days time.
Mayo manager Frank Browne is looking forward to Sunday and his side getting back out on the field, telling the Mayo Advertiser this week, "It's been a long lay off for us, the only thing is you know it's coming - if you were involved in club management you could be 89 days waiting and thinking every week there might be a game. We trained through for three weeks after the Donegal game at the end of the league, then we took ten days off and came back hard at it again then in the build up to this."
"One advantage I suppose is last year between the league final and the start of the championship, we were chasing little niggling injuries - that you're going to pick up in intense games like they were, where as this year we've had a clean bill of health through from the end of the league."
While the work on the training field has been going well, knowing just were you are is a challenge he admits "The problem is that, you just don't know where you are really, we've had challenge games, but no more than ourselves the top sides don't want to play you and you don't want to play them so you don't show your hand. The teams that do want to play you, they are probably getting a bit more out of it, we played a few division two sides and even like the men's game you can see over the past few years the strength and conditioning that the top teams are doing, has seen them push further ahead of the sides below them in the league - that has happened in the ladies game too.
"We've been lucky over the last few years to have had some great strength and conditioning coaches working with us, people at the top of their game and now you're really seeing it. Andy Moran was great and sorting us out with being able to use his gym in Castlebar for the work. You were able to use top class facilities and now you're seeing it a year down the track. The strength and conditioning people will tell you as well, they probably spent the first three months, just teaching the girls the correct form - but when they were able to get into their work, they were doing it right - it's not practice makes perfect, it's perfect practice makes perfect."
While Cora Stauton remains one of the game's greatest ever talents and is putting in top class performances still, there is plenty more talent in this Mayo side Browne says. "Even though this is Rachel Kearns' second year here, she is a phenomenal talent, she'll be there and Fiona Doherty having back in again after a year out is great to be back in again, they are really exciting, if you look back at our game against Dublin in Croagh Park, she was excellent.
"You have the likes of Cora of course and Fiona McHale, and then Aileen Gilroy and Martha Carter are in the form of their lives at the moment. Aileen and Martha they really have benefited more from the strength and conditioning in terms in injury prevention, both of those were a bit injury prone, but because they have such a solid base, they have come on. But then of course you've the fearlessness of Martha Carter who played from the eighth minute of last year's Connacht final with a broken hand, that shows her character and laid down a marker to our players and Galway that we weren't going to be beaten."
Connacht Ladies SFC Final; Mayo v Galway, Sunday, July 2 at 4.30pm in MacHale Park