Fitness guru Coughlan has Mayo primed to go the extra yard
Mayo may have come within a kick of the ball of beating Dublin in last year's All-Ireland football final, but their strength and conditioning coach Ed Coughlan still felt it necessary to start with a clean slate this year.
With a tricky assignment against Kerry standing between them and another crack at the All-Ireland, Coughlan said he has been blown away by the players' appetite for extra work this year, especially after their latest win against Cork.
Traditionally Mayo train on the Wednesday following a Sunday Championship match, but Cork native Coughlan, who has been part of Mayo's back-room team since James Horan took over as manager in late 2010, says he was stunned to see players requesting extra homework on the back of such a testing, physical encounter against his home county.
"We did a training session three days after that Cork game, and by the time Donie (Buckley) called the end of the session, and the cool-down was done and walking off the field, nine players had come up to me to ask me 'is there more I can do?'," said Coughlan, who has previously worked with elite athletes in Team Ireland and in the UK.
"Nine, and another five or six in the dressing-room. You can't buy that, that's just a hunger, a raw hunger that these guys have. They're just enjoying that ride.
"These guys are operating at a level where they have total belief in the process, they have, from day one, bought into a vision of what James set out to me. If you buy into that, well then you're a like-minded person.
"We've got that many people, 30-odd players, 15 or 16 back-room team, all going in the same direction, all following the same goal with the same vision and I think that's a powerful place to be in.
"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 and they love it, they thrive."
Coughlan came into the Mayo set-up in 2010 and initially worked with current Kerry coach Cian O'Neill on developing Mayo's basic skills. Most of the skills work is now done by Kerry native Buckley, but it's up to Coughlan to have the Mayo squad primed to execute those skills on a consistent basis.
In the early days of his involvement with Mayo, he probably needed to provide everyone with an airtight training schedule to get the required results. However, this year he has handed that freedom of choice back to the players, and he says they've thrived.
"Every single year I always do a full revamp, you have to do that. And regardless of the result you have to challenge these players in a new way," he said.
"The different stimulus this time is working off the concept that James spoke of earlier on in the year, in giving these players some more responsibility, so there would have been a lot more of the players' input in what they did.
"From a strength and conditioning point of view it's about empowering them so that they are completely in control of what they are doing. There is that autonomy over their work. I think it's working remarkably well.
"You find yourself in training sessions this year, doing things that you couldn't do with them last year. That's been the case each year - you're able to push more each year because their bodies are able to take it more each year.
"If I did some things that I do with them this year, last year they would have broken down but they are able to take it this year."
The key now, of course, is whether Mayo have what it takes to go that extra yard this time round and end their 63-year wait to bring Sam back to the county.
But if they come short it will not be because they have shirked the hard work on the training ground. They have put heart-breaking defeats behind them and moved on.
Coughlan has been encouraged by the workrate he has seen from his charges and nothing would give this Corkman more pleasure than seeing them edge past the Kingdom and go all the way to glory.
He knows they have improved on last year as far as strength and conditioning is concerned - it just remains to be seen if they can step up on the football side of things and finally end the wait for their long-suffering fans.