The last time that Mayo were in the All Ireland final, Sarah Rowe was out on the field kicking points, but not for Mayo, she was taking part in the children's game at half-time. Ten years later and the DCU PE and biology student is one of Mayo's main attacking threats as they go looking for their fifth All Ireland title.
Looking back to that game and her experience there a decade ago, Rowe says it was a major inspiration in her reaching where she is right now. "The last time they played in the All Ireland final in 2007, I was youngster playing in the half-time game, so I remember looking up at the girls and saying when I grow up I want to be like them. To be in a situation where I'm playing with them and are such good friends with all of them it's just great, when you look back and a few short years ago you feel that you are so far away from it and now it comes around as quickly, it's just great. But to have them older girls guide us in the right direction and their experience mixed with our youth it has been what has made us."
She got another taste of Croke Park back in March, when Mayo beat Dublin in what was a must win league game for them in the Jones Road venue, and having that winning feeling in the ground is something she is very much looking forward to having again on Sunday. "It's great to win in Croke Park, but also is very hard to lose there I'd imagine, the older girls have told us how great it is to win but that it's also the worst place in the world to be when you lose. But that's where we want to be. I suppose playing against Dublin in the league there we were fighting a relegation battle at the time and we had something to lose in that game and to get a win we probably had a bit more bite to us that day, but there isn't that much between the teams at all. They have been in the last four finals and have a lot of experience on the big day. They are a physically strong side and are physically strong and are as good if not better than Cork in my eyes."
The league did not go well for Mayo overall and that carried into the Connacht championship where they were beaten well by Galway in the provincial final. It took a while for Mayo to get going this year — but when it really counted they came good as she explained. "We'd a lot of rebuilding to do after the league — whereas the year before we had won every game in it bar the league final so it was different this year, winning is a habit, and not getting through the league as planned was very disappointing and we had to pull ourselves together again. We had a 12 week lay off between the league and Galway, it's very draining and you're training for 12 weeks at a time. It's very hard to motivate yourself and we went into the Galway game very flat and I suppose we didn't perform and show the Mayo I know, and looked liked we had no heart or character and that is things we do stand for. It is a very disappointing result to lose by 10 points and then see Galway get beaten by Cork by 26 points, if you were a betting man you wouldn't have been betting on us getting the result we did against them in the semifinal."
So what happened between the Galway game and their qualifier opener against Kildare? Rowe told us: "We had to look at ourselves as players and management, because the decisions made by us, and by management, were just not right and we had to go back and accept responsibility for what we did, instead of just brushing over the cracks, and had to really reevaluate that if A,B,C,D goes wrong there is no point just going on about the problem and not fixing it. We had two weeks of trying to get things right and rebuilding again, it was constantly a battle and we had to work hard. The foundations were there for us, we have to get our heads and attitude right. We got a lot of confidence from beating Kildare."
That Kildare game saw Mayo struggle early on but they stuck to their guns and things came together and they used it as a launch pad for the rest of the year to date. "The main thing is that we didn't panic when they did that, normally when we play weaker teams we normally drop to their level a bit, like Westmeath last year, we only beat them by a point in Longford. Whatever we do we stick to the plan and trust in it and that's what we did in that game, we waited for our openings and we took them when they came. That was massive for us that we knew we could do it if we put our minds to it. Going then into Donegal it was the same thing and we had a lot of momentum going in there and we didn't panic when we got a bad start, there was a lot of talk about Donegal being the 'team' and that drove us on, we worked on a game plan and stuck to it for them. It was the same for the semifinal, Cork are a very tough team, we have massive respect for them and we aspire to be what they were - to be the best you have to beat the best. To beat them is a massive achievement, and again we said we needed to work hard and not worry about the opposition too much, there's still a lot we can work on from that game."
As for getting to this stage is it everything that she imagined? Rowe told us: "The main thing is we get the win and put in a big performance, but it's going to be a very tough team and they will be very well prepared for us. When the final whistle went against Cork, my dad came over and it was everything I dreamed of getting to Croke Park on All Ireland final day, but we still want to go there and win it, nice to be there but it's about having something to show for it. It will be a massive test for us."