Cathal Freeman who will lead Mayo out tomorrow is a player who has seen numerous injuries hamper his attempts to break into the senior fold properly, and only for another injury last year which saw him miss his club's senior championship games made him eligible for this year's junior campaign. "As someone said to me there's benefits to being injured, I've had a topsy turvey couple of years, between everything that's happened," he joked last week. But Freeman is confident that he's well on the road to being injury free and getting back to the top level of the game, adding: "Between breaking bones and tearing muscles, but these things sort themselves out, if I keep doing the right thing and I've got fantastic people looking after me, like Liam Moffatt, Mark Gallagher and Martin McIntyre. If I keep doing the right things and listening to those guys and mind myself properly there'll be no problems at all." Injury also ruled out the Aghamore man from the Connacht final win over Galway back in May.
Freeman is a man who has experience of Croke Park on the biggest day, having played in the minor final back in 2008 and been involved in the Mayo panel in 2012 which lost the senior final, and he's hoping that he will be able to pass on some of that experience to the rest of the junior panel for tomorrow. "The way I look at it is that it's something to be enjoyed not endured, there's very few opportunities in life where you are going to be the centre of attention, be on the bus, have the Mayo supporters gathering around the streets there, that's an unbelievable feeling. But when it comes to it, it's all the same when the ball's thrown up, you have to do your job whether you're playing in the back pitch in Aghamore or in Croke Park. Definitely leading up to it, I'd be all for lads enjoying it, taking it all in, making sure that they remember this day in as far as possible as they can, but by the same token they need to do their job. They need to understand what their role is within the team and be able to execute that no matter where we're playing. "
Another key man for Mayo tomorrow will be Hollymount-Carramore's Darren McHugh, who himself tasted what life is like in the fast lane earlier this season when he was part of Mayo's senior set up in the early months of the year. Having that experience is something that he's looking to draw on tomorrow and into the future. "It's just another level of intensity, the training, the preparation, diet, nutrition, it's just another level and it's great to get that experience. You can bring it back to your club and pass it on to club players. It was fantastic, the lads that are in there as Cathal said are a brilliant bunch of lads and the commitment they've given over the last couple of years is unbelievable."
Mayo were healthy winners over Kilkenny in the semi-final, but that is what people expected and it brought its own pressures as McHugh explained. "I think we prepared well for it, we were mentally prepared and physically well prepared. You've got the thing that everybody on the street will tell you it's Kilkenny and they're a hurling county and you're expected to win. We weren't taking them lightly and expected a tough game on the day." The long lay off between their Connacht final win and the semi-final was another consideration that had to be taken into account, he added. "There's always room for improvement, you have to take into consideration we hadn't played in two months so there's a big gap between the Connacht final and the Kilkenny game. We did get off to a good start and I think just when they started dropping back defensively we found it hard to break them down."
Facing any Kerry team in an All Ireland final can be a daunting task, but Freeman is steadfast in his belief that Mayo can and will turn over the Kingdom tomorrow. "Definitely, no matter who we played it was always going to be a team with real skill, and just because it's Kerry I wouldn't get hung up on that fact. Mayo is a top county, we have top class players no matter what the level is, whether it's under age, junior, or senior. There is no need for us to fear any other county, if they play in green and gold or black and gold or any colour. They are just an opposition, that we have to make sure we give the right amount of respect to, but understand we have the ability and capability within our team to beat anyone."
When it comes down to the crunch tomorrow that kind of belief will be a major factor in Mayo getting over the line and claiming the All Ireland junior title.