Such was the confidence of the Mayo set up that they would get over the challenge of Cork in their All Ireland semifinal despite what the bookmakers and others thought, they had their recovery plans in place for straight after their game in Cavan three weeks ago. Mayo manager Frank Browne told the Mayo Advertiser in the lead up to this Sunday's game that after they left the dressing room in Breffni Park, "We went straight back to reality, we went to a hotel in Longford, had something to eat and had a pool session."
He did add that there was a bit of celebration, saying: "We had a few beers that night - because you have to celebrate getting to an All Ireland final, but it was a tame night because it was almost for the sake of doing it because our focus switched to Dublin immediately, I mean when we were heading back on the bus we were working on it, because they are going to be a massive challenge. With Cork last year it took all their players to get over the line."
Last year's championship ended in dramatic circumstances for Mayo against the same opposition they will face on Sunday at the semifinal stage of the competition when Sinead Ahern kicked a buzzer beater free to see off Mayo, and Browne expects it to be just as close on Sunday. "There will be nothing in it, people will say Dublin have been beaten so much in finals that they are going to try and avenge that and will see with Cork gone, that it's their chance. But we'll be going about our work quietly and try to get them to beat them. Dublin manager Mick Bohan and their backroom guys are top class, they'll have done their homework well, they won't be found wanting, but neither will we."
Improving all the time
Looking back to when he managed Mayo in an earlier stint when they reached their last All Ireland final 10 years ago, the game has changed radically since then and moved on again since he came back on board two years ago, the Wexford native says. "It's worlds apart, I would say even from two years ago when I came back, I could say it's gone on leaps and bounds since then. We've a big backroom team and all that, as does everyone. But that's all about the single fundamental of making everyone better players, that's the basic that wins games.
"It's the same in every sport, it's about getting that bit better, it would be like when Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile - people said well that's that and we won't do better and not try to go faster. It's all about how you gain that little bit and get better. Cora Staunton is the prime example, after 23 years of playing she's still looking at 'how can I get that little bit better at this or that'. Niamh Kelly scored a great point where she ran almost the length of the field, but if you look back at it, Cora made a run that pulled two defenders away and it let Niamh go through the middle, same thing for Aileen Gilroy's goal, she pulled people away and the type of player she is she'll pull two or three away and create space for Niamh and Grace Kelly and Sarah Rowe who have the pace to open up things."
Learning as you go along
Mayo went down to a heavy defeat to Galway in the Connacht final, that loss saw a lot of soul searching by both players and management and Browne was not afraid to reach out for help to try to get the team back on track, and that led to him bringing Peter Leahy and Niall Heffernan into his backroom team midway through the season. "It wasn't in my mind earlier this year, but we sat down and said, look, we need to change what we are doing, we are in danger of going out and we've all worked too hard to go out with a whimper. It was a hard decision and it took soul searching and in fairness to DJ Collins who is the coach, to have someone else come in and help him with it, he said no problem, it's the right thing to do for the team, let's get it done. It was a big call for him to say let's go with it, but that's the calibre of this team to say no, we'll do it and want to do our best to try and win."
Mayo have had some big moments in this year's championship in the face of adversity, they went down to 14 players at vital stages in both their quarterfinal and semifinal wins — where rather than sit back they went at their opposition even harder, when it could be easier to sit back and try to see out the 10 minute sin-bin. That upping of intensity is something they have consciously pre-planned, Brown says. "In some ways, it's been something we've worked on, if we go down to 14 we decided not to sit back and try and hold them out, we decided that we'll keep going at them and drive on. If we're going to die let's go out of here on our shields and fighting.
"We have it all looked at, Niall Heffernan who is our eyes in the stand, he'd be watching a lot of that and formulate a plan to say look, she's gone, we need to do this and move this, and that's brilliant. But then of course you get to something like the last 10 minutes of the Cork game and suddenly it's very frantic and all hell breaks loose. It might be brilliant for somebody watching it, when everything is kicking off and going mad, but you've got to try and keep calm and pick your way through those minutes. But even in that game, I'd felt we'd kicked for home and just needed to keep ticking over and hold them out and not do anything stupid."
In comparison to the men's game, in ladies' football you know exactly how long is left in the game because of the use of the countdown clock, and that means you have to have a plan if you are holding onto a lead and the clock is on your side, Browne told us. "Ah yeah, you'd have worked on things like that all right - you'd see Niamh Kelly got the ball with 40 seconds to go in the semifinal and she made sure she worked her way down the sideline to the corner and out of danger and at least if you're turned over there it's a long way back and you'd even take a yellow down there to stop it, but that's the winning margins you have to do. We'd have a set play after a goal or things like that too to try and control everything."
On Sunday, Browne will be hoping all of his planning and preparation will pay off for his side against Dublin.