Coen, calm and collected

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship Semi-Final

Standing tall: Stephen Coen is ready to do his part for Mayo against Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile.

Standing tall: Stephen Coen is ready to do his part for Mayo against Dublin. Photo: Sportsfile.

Stephen Coen was marked out from an early age as someone who could make it in the game at the top level.

A starting minor for two years, in the second year of that run he was captaining an All Ireland minor winning Mayo team, he was also captain of the u21s a few years later - who also picked up an All Ireland title and a number of Sigerson Cups with a star studded UCD team - where he was also a captain - and these are just some of his achievements on the field.

Off it, he is studying for a PhD in the areas of bovine nutrition and reproduction with UCD and Teagasc, which is keeping him busy, and he has just had his first scientific paper accepted recently and will be hoping to wrap up his studies and become Dr Coen next year.

But he could as easily also have been trying to make his name in other sporting circles, such was his ability in the swimming pool when he was a younger man, as he told us last week, when conversation turned to the then ongoing Olympics in Tokyo.

"I swam for Ireland when I was about 15 or 14. A funny story; my mother couldn’t swim so she made sure the four of us could swim, she’ll probably kill me for saying that now.

"I suppose I was pretty good at it, I was fairly developed as a young fella from kind of 12 onwards, so I was good and strong, a few of the people I would have swam against at different competitions are now swimming in the Olympics.

"When we were with that Irish team, Nicholas Quinn from Castlebar was the captain at the time and he was very unfortunate what happened to him with qualifications earlier in the year, which put him out of the Olympics.

"I learned so much from that sport and it helped me so much with discipline and aerobic capacity and bringing that to football. I think playing loads of sports when you are a kid is extremely beneficial."

In the pool he was all about the speed, something he joked isn't exactly his game on the field, saying: "I was back stroke, that was my stroke, the 100m was probably my main distance, free style was strong too - a sprinter in the swimming side of things, but not the football side of things."

Coen has made himself a mainstay of the Mayo starting team over the past few years but he is still constantly learning - and not just from those who are longer in the game than himself, he says.

“What is funny is that you’ll always assume that you’ll learn from people who have more experience than you. But actually, there is a lot to be learned from people who have come in fresh form, you know at 18, 19, 20 years of age - they have developed stuff in their underage career that you might not have spotted and everyone has their own learning.

"That is the great thing about this group, everyone is willing to learn from each other, no one is too big for anyone, no one is not able to speak up, we are all able to speak our mind, we all learn. So when you have that honesty in a group, it is a recipe for progressing."

Last year was a learning curve for a number of players getting their first real taste of things at the top level of the game and Coen believes they have stepped up their level even higher this year.

"I would say that we got new guys in last year and we got more new guys in this year, but the guys who came in last year have developed again. They are more experienced, they want responsibility, they are given responsibility, they help us going forward.

"But also the guys who have experience and are older than them are really developed. Because it is more competitive, places are up for grabs - guys have to up their game more and more.

"It is an honest environment, full of energy, really positive, you are just happy to be playing, so when you have that culture as a group, you are going to accelerate that bit quicker.

"We have added stuff to our game, from the year before, and that is testament to management and players and contributions that have been made amongst each other."

Having the trust of the management is all that a player wants and needs to thrive and Coen is thankful that James Horan has put his trust in him and also is pushing him to keep improving every day he goes on the field.

"I suppose, James called me into the panel seven or eight years ago now - around 2014. I learned a lot from then and I developed an awful lot over the last three years. The biggest thing he has given me is the responsibility, which is something I do well on and thrive on.

"All a manager can do is give you his trust and once he does that, you play to the best of your own ability and it lets you trust your instinct and make good decisions in the game.

"He challenged me on a few things I need to develop and I think he has helped me do that, so absolutely, I have progressed with him, still have loads of room to improve, always have, but I know any advice he gives me is for the betterment of my performance and for the teams performance.

"Just different things (Horan challenged him on ); it could be physical development, it could be footwork, it could be tackling, kicking the ball, being progressive and things that I suppose, I would have known myself.

"When he challenges you, you have to reply back and improve on it - if you don’t, you won’t play and that is what he does with everyone.

"You've got to take the challenge head on and then if you do perform, you get rewarded for it. Thankfully I’m slowly improving as I go through."

One thing for sure is that Coen will be ready to do his bit and more for Mayo come game time on Saturday.

 

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