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Sunday 24 September 2017

Coen is no stranger to finals... but now he craves the big one

Mayo’s Stephen Coen races clear of Kerry’s Anthony Maher in their All-Ireland semi-final replay. Photo: Sportsfile
Mayo’s Stephen Coen races clear of Kerry’s Anthony Maher in their All-Ireland semi-final replay. Photo: Sportsfile

For someone still shy of his 22nd birthday, Stephen Coen has crammed a lot of elite football into his CV.

In 2016, alone, he played in five All-Ireland finals across a spectrum of levels and grades. Hollymount/Carramore lost the intermediate club decider that February; later that month, Coen appeared as a sub to help UCD end their 20-year Sigerson Cup famine; he then skippered Mayo to All-Ireland U21 glory at the end of April.

Onto the business end of the senior championship, where he came off the bench twice against Dublin - before half-time in the replay, for the black-carded Lee Keegan, to deliver a very decent containment of Diarmuid Connolly.

During this summer's epic perambulations he has veered between starter (against Galway and Derry), ultra-early sub (for another black card recipient, Donal Vaughan, against Clare) and, more latterly, impact sub in the engine room when Séamus O'Shea's legs start to tire.

"The last two years I've really enjoyed it," says Coen. "Every year I'm learning, getting more experience, soaking up a lot of knowledge off different fellas."

Impact

Including, one suspects, fellow student house-mate Conor McCarthy. The Monaghan ace knows a thing or two about making a sudden impact off the bench against Dublin - even on a well beaten team, he kicked three superb points off Jonny Cooper last month.

"He's class, he's a super player," Coen enthuses. But so, too, are some very familiar Dubs. Jack McCaffrey was his victorious Sigerson Cup captain last year; Mick Fitzsimons and Paul Mannion were team-mates. All three have been key men during Dublin's so-far serene pursuit of a Sam Maguire hat-trick.

And then there's fellow Belfield man Con O'Callaghan, who led the Sky Blue charge against Mayo during last year's roller-coaster All-Ireland U21 semi-final.

A year later, O'Callaghan would have his U21 medal. "He was very good this year in the 21s," Coen agrees. "I know he goes to college in UCD and we were unlucky not to have him this year - he was hurling with Cuala. He's a super player and his attitude is top class, from what I have heard."

The Mayo student has now returned to UCD for his fourth and final degree year in agricultural science. At certain times, primarily January to May, this entails lots of cross-country commuting.

"We nearly look forward to the bus down," he says of the Dublin-based players' midweek trek home for training.Besides, he makes it abundantly clear, inter-county football is not something to be endured. "Look," he says, "we don't have to do this. We don't have to play for Mayo if we don't want to - but we all want to and if that's what it takes, that's what we'll do."

Resolve

As for Mayo's incremental improvement since their second consecutive Connacht exit to Galway, Coen pinpoints a collective resolve.

"There is a time when you have to say, 'Right, get back to the simple stuff, gets the basics right and you get working hard again'. That is what we did," he outlines.

"There were times after Galway when Derry could have knocked us out. Cork could have knocked us out, but they didn't. Everyone has tried to beat us so far, but they haven't so we take confidence out of that."

Why did their summer catch fire in the Roscommon replay? "The difference was that we just got our execution right with our game-plan." They weren't happy with the performance against Kerry on day one, but "we knew we could improve and we did".

Still, they approach the final after three displays of considerable substance.

"We have been happy with how much we have executed the management's game-plan. If we can do the same, we fully believe we can be successful this year."

And if they are?

"It would be a dream come true, it would be unbelievable. That," he concludes, "is why I play football."

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