The Mayo Ladies's senior footballers will get their championship campaign underway on Saturday afternoon when they make the trip to Markievicz Park to take on Cavan in the first round of the group stages of the championship.
Mayo have been pitted in the only four-team group in the championship, alongside three Ulster sides - Cavan, Monaghan and Armagh, who knocked them out of the championship last Winter. All the games in the group stages will be played in neutral venues.
The league saw Mayo make it out of the group stages to reach the Division One semi-final, where they were eliminated by Dublin. Looking back on the league as a whole, there were plenty of positives to take from it, manager Michael Moyles said earlier this week: "The league for us was exploratory - we wanted to see probably some girls in different positions we hadn't seen before and put a bit of youth into the blend and of course, we are going out to win every game we could. The Galway game was the biggest emphasis for us at the start, we hadn't a win for three or four years. For our own confidence and the team it was important to get a good performance there and where it bought us. We kind of changed up systems and tried to find what suited us."
These sentiments were echoed by Mayo Forward Niamh Kelly, who said: "I suppose it was great to get game time for the girls, a lot of new girls came in and made their debuts over the league, but it was great to get a win over Galway.
"It could have gone either way on the day. I thought there were a lot of chances, if they got scores from them it could have been a different scoreline at the end. I think we were lucky we got away with the win that day. It is always a tough battle between us and Galway.
"It was nice to get a win but I know they didn't have their full team out either - they had the likes of Louise Ward out that day; it was good to get a good start, the league was great for us, with young girls who had never been there before to get some game time."
Learning from defeat
The defeat to Dublin in the league semi-final has given Mayo plenty to learn from as they head into the championship, according to team captain for this year, Clodagh McManamon: "We were very disappointed with the result against Dublin, the scoreline didn't reflect the game at all, we were up with them for the first 20 minutes, the goals killed us really.
"Once they got a hold on it they ran away with it, but if we did take our chances when we had them, it could have changed the game. In general, in the league we did learn a lot and like, we have new management and new players; it is a whole new group in general and I think we did take a lot from it, so, very excited to start the championship, I think it will be really good."
Moyles felt similar to his captain, telling us: "It ended up with a scoreline that didn't reflect the game, but it was a good lesson too from Dublin to be honest, and that is where we find out where we are at and where we need to get to.
"I thought for the first 20 minutes we were excellent, honestly. I thought we prepared well coming in and we were in a good place where, in the first 20 minutes, we showed it. But you can see once a team like Dublin take a hold of it, they just kind of strangle the life out of you. There were three goal chances there - we were hitting our own players on the bum and you know, square balls and stuff, and that happens in games; it is how you react to it, so lots of lessons there for us."
New faces all around and new format
This will be the first championship game for Moyles and his newly assembled backroom team and it has all been going great so far with everyone, according to Kelly. "It is brilliant to have Michael and his team in, they are all new management in this year. They bring a good energy to the group, they all have great experience, the likes of Ger Cafferky doing the video analysis, Austin O'Malley, who is a high performance coach - who has been with the men too; you learn a lot from them and their experience of playing too. It is great to have a good mix of personalities and people involved with us - you definitely learn a lot from the backroom team."
The format of the championship is something that is exciting the players, McManamon believes: "Definitely the more game time the better and playing a wide variety of teams. I know we have all Ulster teams in our group and we wouldn't usually get to play the likes of those, it is better than playing Galway in a straight Connacht final.
"It is nice we're not waiting around to go into championship, some might say you don't have much time to prepare but I think we want to be playing games and improving every week and not be waiting."
Kelly is also of the same thinking, saying: "I like the fact we have four teams in our group it gives us a bit more game time as well; you learn the most from the games, all the girls are excited about that and I know there is not much rest in between games and you can't afford to have injuries, we just have to be ready and not dwell too much on games because we only have a week turnaround - but at the same time, it's great to have an extra game, it will be a tough group but we will look forward."
Nursing injuries back to health
As for the injuries - Mayo have a few concerns going into the start of the championship, Moyles outlined, saying: "Maria Reilly broke her jaw against Dublin and no dirty tackle in it. She'll be another couple of weeks, she is at every training session, she is on the bike, it was just unfortunate; she puts her body on the line as do most of the girls, she left her body open and it was just an unfortunate glance of a shoulder that caught her wrong and these things happen in football; but I can guarantee you the moment she can put a pair of football boots on she will. Lisa Cafferkey had a kind of stress fracture in her ankle from the Galway game and didn't realise, she just got on with it and from the Donegal game she made it worse - she is six weeks post, hopefully she will be back to straight line running this week
"We have the likes of Fiona McHale carrying an ankle injury, Amy Dowling has a hamstring issue, she'll be another week or two; Ciara McManamon is coming back from again, it is a long-term issue we are trying to work on this year and she is back on the field training once a week with us for the last week or two - Roisin Durkan is also managing an injury; it is all about trying to manage and get game time into their legs and fitness and Sarah with the shoulder injury."