"Over the course of an hour we feel we can take on anyone at this level and there are only two horses left in this race," said Mayo junior manager Séan McLoughlin ahead of tomorrow's All Ireland Junior Football Championship final in Croke Park against Kerry. The Knockmore man has guided his charges through wins over Sligo and Galway in Connacht and then the novel semi-final against Kilkenny a few weeks ago. But he also knows his team will have to up their game from that semi-final win saying: "To win the All Ireland we will need to improve on the performance from the semi-final and that's a given, we have to. We'll be looking to do things and talk about stuff we didn't do so well, and try and get it as right as we can for August 8. If we can get a performance we're in with a shout."
McLoughlin was keen to praise the willingness of everyone who answered the call to take up the juniors' challenge this year for their commitment to the cause in a grade that can often see players drop out of contention at short notice. "It's nice when it happens, it's what you want to happen when you set out, and I suppose all those things are spoken about and then if it doesn't happen on the day of the match you feel a bit silly. If you're talking about stuff like that for two months and you don't bring it to the match day, something is seriously wrong. They have shown huge willingness to work and they are very proud to be representing Mayo, and the fact that they are in the final of this competition it's great, but each and every game is one and the same as the next, it's championship, it's you or them and that's the great thing about championship."
Everyone has played his part this far
The management team have great faith in all their squad and know that when any one of them is called on he will be willing to deliver and do all he can for the cause, said selector Daire McManamon. "We have great faith in the 24 players and the lads outside the 24 who haven't made it, we have trust and faith in the subs as much as the 15 starters and that has been shown in each of the games to date. We have used our subs and we feel they all came on and made valuable contributions and it's as much to do with them as it is the starting 15 that we have got to where we are today."
While they will show Kerry the height of respect, McManamon said that he's confident his side can deliver the goods tomorrow afternoon. "We're not going to know any more [about them] than I hope they know about us, we'll treat them with the upmost respect that we have treated any team we have come against so far. We're in no doubt that they will provide a stern test for us. But we're confident if we deliver our best, we're a match for any team at this level. We're just relying on our lads to do their best on the day."
Getting the preparation right
While the club championship and league games can be seen as a hindrance in the senior inter-county grade, McLoughlin was happy to see his players back with their clubs as they were getting good competitive football to aid their build up, he said. "While they were involved with the club championship there was nothing we could do. They are club players and that's the same I suppose for the senior management, they didn't have access to the players greatly during the time they were playing senior club championship. On one hand we were delighted they were with their clubs. One thing we're assured of is that they were playing competitive football, and in the weeks leading up to that they were gaining in terms of fittness and they were going to come back to us no worse or even better, we'd be happy enough with that. We have then had good fortune with the Mayo senior team winning, and the club championship took a back seat and that allowed us to have access to our players bar the starred games, and that wasn't a problem because, you can't just go off the radar. It has been grand, all our preparations couldn't have been better, was better than most probably."