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Mayo battle weariness not an issue as Coughlan has his players 'bang on track'

FOR the fourth year running, Mayo footballers enter the All-Ireland semi-final arena this weekend, the big prize still elusive. But any notion of battle fatigue ahead of their Kerry showdown has been rubbished by the man who should know best, their fitness guru Ed Coughlan.

Some seasoned observers of their recent quarter-final left Croke Park wondering if Cork's dramatic fourth quarter comeback had been facilitated - at least in part - by some physical flagging on the part of Mayo.

The counter-argument, of course, is that after leaking an unanswered 1-4 in the space of ten minutes, the Connacht champions replied with 1-3 of their own from the 64th minute.


This defiant response was crowned by what transpired to be the match-winning point from Lee Keegan: having curbed his natural attacking instincts to man-mark Paul Kerrigan all day, the two-time All Star wing-back still had the energy and ambition to pop up in front of Hill 16 for a crucial 70th minute score.

According to Coughlan, Mayo's strength and conditioning coach and a mainstay of James Horan's management team over the past four seasons, the squad is "bang on track" physically in their quest to end the 63-year wait for Sam Maguire.

The Cork native describes their Wednesday night session after the recent quarter-final as "arguably our best Wednesday session we've ever had."

"The intensity that these men bring to what they do is something that is just a pleasure to be around," he enthuses. "They are in their element right now. We barely got out of third gear and they're in an All-Ireland semi-final.

"I'll take that any day of the week, especially when I would always have to have an over-arching plan for the year from a strength and conditioning point of view. It changes every week but you still have a long-term vision of where you want to be. Right now we are bang on track, as simple as that."

For each of his four years with the set-up, Coughlan has sought to revamp the physical preparation of this Mayo team. This year was no different.

As manager, Horan wanted to give the players more input from a strength and conditioning perspective - essentially to hand over responsibility to them "because, at the end of the day, for 70 minutes on the field, they're the guys who are in charge out there, and the more and more we have done that, the more and more they have responded to it," Coughlan explains.

"They're a team, they're a unit of leaders. They're very successful in what they do in the rest of their lives away from Mayo football, and there's no reason why we shouldn't give them that responsibility in here. From a strength and conditioning point of view it is about empowering them so that they feel they are completely in control of what they are doing."


Big question - is it working? "I think it's working remarkably well," Coughlan declares. "When you look at the game that we played (against Cork) and the intensity that was in that first half, the one word that I would take from it is composure. Incredible composure.

"Did they go off-script for a little bit? Yeah, they did. It gives us something to work on and it's great to have that, something to work on.

"But it's that composure," he reiterates. "When they went off-script and we let Cork back into the game - it wasn't anything really that Cork were doing, just we let them back into the game - they themselves then took it back into their own hands.

"For us to come away from that, that intense battle, and have all the guys out training the following Wednesday night - that is a credit to them," he adds.

"It's a real enjoyable place to be in, it's an exciting environment to be in, and it's driven by 30-odd lunatics on the field every week who just go to the max. They just go to the max and they love it."