Getting put up at the top table at a press conference can be a daunting and painful enough task for professional sports people, never mind the senior players in Gaelic games, so it must be even more of a shock to the system for a handful of 17 and 18-year-olds to do so. But three of Mayo’s rising stars put their fears behind them last week in Breaffy House and were very much focused on the challenge ahead that is Sunday’s meeting with Monaghan in Croke Park.
Breaffy’s Michael Hall is conscious that he and the rest of his team-mates cannot be overawed by the occasion itself, saying. “We have to go out and play the game, not the occasion, the management will prepare us as well as they possibly can. But once we go over the line and get on to that pitch, it's our job to go out and do it. We look for 100 per cent in each game and we've to try and get as close to it as possible and I think and hope in this game we'll improve.”
It’s all about putting in their best performance and getting the job done on the field he went on to say. “First thing you have to try and get everything out of yourself, without worrying about the opposition or the crowd. We have to watch ourselves and play as well as we can and not get caught up in the occasion and the game.” The Mayo defender is also keen to keep up the great tradition of being a Mayo minor, and recognises that he is one of the lucky ones to make the grade and wear the green and red in Croke Park. “You feel you've a duty to go out and do it for the lads that didn't get on too. It's a massive honour to be a Mayo minor and play in a All Ireland semi-final.”
Team captain Stephen Coen experienced heartbreak at this stage last year, as part of the team that lost to Meath in last year’s semi-final, but he is thinking of this game and nothing else at the moment. “We’ve just to focus on working hard and we like to think that we're ambitious and we have to focus on every game and we can't take any game for granted. We've matured, both us and Monaghan, we're both used to tight and high pressure games now.”
As for Diarmuid O’Connor, he already has had to follow in the footsteps of his big brother Cillian, but he also had to get over a long-term injury this year to get back to Croke Park. “I missed the start of the year with Davitt College and getting to the All Ireland semi-final with them. Having to watch the lads working hard on the training field I was just dying to get back out on the field to work as hard as I can to get a place back on the team. I'm looking forward to it now, this game is a new challenge for all of us, the management included.”
Last year’s experience in Croke Park is something that he will be looking to draw on but it is a new challenge again, and he is just looking at the Monaghan game and nothing else, according to the Ballintubber man. “I suppose it does [help] a small bit, the big crowd and everything. Last year against Tipp and Meath and getting used to the pitch, I suppose it is [a help]. But it's the same as any other game at the end of the day. I can't wait for it now, every day is just looking forward to it now.”