Last year saw Brendan Harrison rewarded for his displays for Mayo in his breakthrough year with an All Star award for his defensive displays. While it was a nice personal recognition, it doesn't mean that the Aghamore man was able to rest on his laurels this year. "It was lovely to get one, but the ultimate goal is to get a Celtic Cross. It was still a lovely prize to get and get recognised, but once we went into 2017, you were battling for your jersey again, no-one was going to say that's Brendan Harrison's jersey — you had to go out and prove yourself again for it. You're doing that through each game, it's a new squad or panel, there are young lads coming into it and lads who have moved on; it's different set up and different unit with new people."
Some players could get overawed on their first appearance in an All Ireland final, but Harrison loved it last year. "It was huge, it was my first All Ireland starting and marching around behind the band and things like that. It was a serious buzz, coming down to the Hill and you see the blue smoke from the Hill and you hear the crowd roaring. It's good, some people kind of get a bit nervous, but I kind of soak it in, it's just once the ball is thrown in, it's amazing how it's like you switch off and its just an another game."
Getting to this stage of the championship is not just about ability, it's about discipline in so many areas the Aghamore man explains, and food intake is one of those as a bowl of fried nibbles in front of him isn't even briefly entertained. "We've a savage nutritionist Caroline Brosnan, you're training so hard you have to have your food up or you're just going to lose weight, for example a man of my build which wouldn't be awful big. You put on a bit of size over the winter and you don't keep your nutrition up when you're training hard over the winter, it falls just straight off you, so you have to eat a lot of stuff. It's normal enough stuff just fairly healthy, like a good breakfast of porridge and fruit and you'd be eating regularly throughout the day. You might have a dinner in the middle of the day and you might have a dinner again int he evening, maybe sweet potato and chicken and veg and things like that. It's not fancy or extravagent but you're eating as good as you can."
The intake of food of course differs for players depending on their size and needs, he explains. "Yeah, different lads are different, I wouldn't put on weight very easily, but some naturally bigger lads who might put on more weight, might be cutting back a bit on non training days, have one less spud or wherever, whereas I will be throwing an extra one on to keep the weight up. When you train hard, especially this year when you have so many games week after week, your body just needs the energy to keep up and if you're not eating, the weight will fall off you."
It's not just eating, it's about recovering for the games that have come thick and fast for Mayo this summer. "Recovery generally was massive for you, if you have only a week between the game, you have to get your body right to be going 70 or 90 and up to 100 minutes the week after it. Recovery is huge between ice-baths and getting into the medical team and getting rubs out, food is a huge part, you're eating flat out to get your energy reserves back up again and so we're well used to it." As for when you come right again after a tough game, he said: "I suppose you'd train on Wednesday, it's usually when you go out for a run around on a Wednesday evening you get the blood flowing and you feel right.
"You're getting extra rubs, you're going over to the lads in the clinic to get extra work done on you. It might not be necessarily that you're injured but it's that it's preventative, games are gone so physical you're not going to come out of the game feeling good, you're coming out battered and bruised, it's just precautionary."
Some games are tougher than others to recover from and he pinpoints one game this summer and the effect it had on the next one. "Cork down in Limerick, it was a real hot day. Cork were a strong physical side, a lot of brilliant runners sapped energy out of you, going to extra time you'd to go again and, look, we recovered well after it and it might stand to us well coming into a final." The following week Mayo didn't perform to the level they would have hoped against Roscommon in the drawn quarter-final, but it wasn't the only reason for it he says. "Possibly it might have had a factor, I don't think it was the only reason, I think we were a little bit sloppy or off focus a small bit. I think we noticed that ourselves in the week coming up to the second game, we were going into that game razor focused and we're not going to lose that game."
There is no real downtime for an inter-county footballer these days with the winter as important to be ready for the next season as the work you put in once the season gets going. "As the saying goes, you don't come to training to get fit, you go to training fit. That's the way it's gone at this stage, it's something that you get used to." He pays tribute to the work of the strength and conditioning team in getting Mayo in top shape for the hard road they've travelled. "I suppose it's what to expect after last year, you kind of knew what to expect to keep yourself well for the next game, which was a massive part of it. If you're not recovering right coming into the next game, you're at a disadvantage straight away. But last year we learned some lessons and we definitely learned some lessons this year about recovery and things like that. Week on week recovery is huge.
"We've a serious backroom team, Barry Solan, Conor Finn and a savage medical team, you're monitored all the time. They had us in a good position they had us do a lot of work over the winter time and during the league to be ready for championship, each game drove us on more. At the end of the year you might get a few weeks off, but it's straight into the gym; it's like the food, your body will not be good if you're not doing something — you see lads even aside from the organised training heading into the gym to get a bit of work done."
Harrison has established himself as one of the best defenders in the game and if the work he has put in on and off the field over the last few years pays off on Sunday, he'll be a happy man and the whole county will remember his name for years to come.