On Sunday at 4pm the Mayo Ladies senior footballers will go looking to reclaim the Connacht Senior Championship from their southern neighbours after a few years of dominance in the province by Galway. Frank Browne is back in charge of Mayo this year after being the man who guided Mayo to the All Ireland final back in 2007 only for his tenure to end in controversial circumstances, before he could build on that success the next year.
We caught up with Frank on Wednesday evening as he headed to training to put the final bits in place ahead of the game. "I'm just driving out to training in Ballyheane and the pitch will be cut and the sun's out, it's what championship is about, it makes all the hard slog and effort in the wind and the rain in the early months of the year worthwhile." Mayo got to train in MacHale Park earlier in the week and that was a massive boost going into Sunday's game he added, saying: "We trained in McHale Park on Monday night, the surface was better than it's ever been. For the likes of our backs it was great to get used to it so they could get the bit of perspective of where they are in relation to the goal and same for the forwards, it was useful to get out on it. We did our 45 minutes, this week was all about getting all the horses into the starter's gate as they say in racing."
It has been a long wait for Mayo since their last league game against the same opposition, but the lay-off has been put to good use the Wexford native explained. "We've gone 13 weeks since the last game, so it was some ways an advantage you could go away and work quietly and do what you need to do. But for the first four or five weeks though there's no doubt about it, you're just trying to keep everything fresh and motivated, the last game is gone and the next one is too far away to really concentrate on. We took one week off at the end of May and that gave us the kind of time we needed for the ideal championship preparation. We'd a couple of challenges with Westmeath, Dublin, and Donegal, they were three right good challenges that got us up to speed, the other advantage that we're carrying is that bar Clarie Egan we're carrying everyone, that's the beauty of those 13 weeks I suppose when you look at it, you can get everything cleared up and get your bits and pieces sorted out and ready for Sunday."
Tough calls to be made
The effort being put in at training has left Browne with a number of headaches he is glad to have ahead of the game when it comes to team selection. "It's a great problem to have, I kind of hate when managers say there's great competition for places, of course there's competition for places. If you put your hand up and are involved you want to be on the field, that's why you're there. The girls have been pushing hard and it raises the intensity at training, everyone's pushing on and it drives everyone on, it means you're better training because no one is in a comfort zone."
While Mayo failed to make the top four in the league, Browne was happy overall with his side's performances and knows they are not far off making the knock-out stages. "I'd have liked to have got to a league semi-final to have got the extra game, but really messed up against Kerry in MacHale Park, we were there or thereabouts going down the final stretch and we only got two goals out of six chances, you can't do that at this level, get in front of goal like that and not put them away. It was a disappointing one, if we'd won that we'd have got to a league semi-final no matter what happened in the last game, but then we'd Galway in the final game, it was a dead rubber because Galway were through and we couldn't then and we were safe. Nobody really wanted to show their hand either because everyone knew what was coming down the track. Especially in the ladies' game, it's a small community at the higher level, everyone knows everyone, and everyone is talking to everyone, no matter what you do everyone knows about it," he said.
Standard getting better
After being out of the top level of the ladies' game for a number of years, the standard has got better and better Browne says, and he is relishing coming up to the level that is being demanded of him by his players. "You're getting to work with high performance athletes where you challenge them and they challenge you, and that's the environment that an athlete wants to be involved in, and you as a manager, getting better and learning all the time. The standard has gone up massively, no more than in the men's game, hurling or whatever, the bar has been raised so much on the football side, but the likes of the strength and conditioning, the diet and all the bits and pieces that goes into, it's not really the same game at all. It's great to see, it's going up and up every year, everyone is looking for that little edge that will get you over the line."