It’s probably more than just coincidence Mayo captain Stephen Coen refers to the Tyrone U21s of 2001 as he considers this weekend’s EirGrid All-Ireland decider.
Coen was admittedly joined by Tyrone’s Sean Cavanagh at a promotion organised by the tournament sponsors when hereferenced that star-studded Red Hand side.
But even if Cavanagh wasn’t by his side, you can be sure that Coen already had that Tyrone team of 15 years ago on his mind ahead of the Ennis showdown with Cork.
That was the last team to win minor and U21 All-Irelands with the same core group of players, in 1998 and 2001, a feat that Mayo are so close to emulating.
To add an extra layer of significance to it, the late Cormac McAnallen captained both of those Tyrone teams and Coen, Mayo’s minor and U21 captain, finds himself just 60 minutes from matching that impressive feat.
The midfielder, from the Hollymount-Carramore club, isn’t convinced what these Mayo players did at minor level three years ago has much bearing on present events though.
“I don’t think it does, no,” said Coen. “I don’t think it’s relevant, to be honest. It’s a totally new set-up, new management. I’d say about 50% of the squad is new so we’re trying to write our own story this year and make our own success. We set out a goal at the start of the year and hopefully we can achieve that this weekend but it’s a new season in its own right really.”
That Tyrone team of 2001 contained players like Conor Gormley, Brian McGuigan, Owen Mulligan, and Stephen O’Neill who went on to win multiple senior All-Irelands .Coen would love to follow that same path by beating Cork and starring as a senior.
“If you look at any team that has had U21 success then a lot of those guys usually make the transition to senior,” continued Coen. “The likes of Sean Cavanagh were great underage players with Tyrone and that U21 side of 2001 obviously kicked on afterwards.
“You could see the fruit they bore from those teams in the years after it. I think coming through the U21 level is a real stepping stone for lads to make it at senior level.”
Coen featured for Mayo twice in this year’s Allianz League while Diarmuid O’Connor, 2015 Young Player of the Year, Michael Hogan, David Kenny and Conor Loftus are with the seniors too.
The U21 side drew on that bank of experience to come from four points down against Dublin in the semi-finals and they fought back to beat Roscommon in the Connacht decider too.
“When the game gets down to the melting pot, it’s about dealing with that pressure,” said Coen. “I suppose when you’ve dealt with that pressure before, it helps then when you’re going into a big game like this. Hopefully, it will anyway.”
Mayo’s semi-final win over Dublin preceded Cork’s defeat of Monaghan in Tullamore last Saturday week. Playing first on the day meant that Mayo had the opportunity to sit back and assess their final opponents, who turned out to be Cork.
“They’re a great team, great power, pace, they work really hard,” said Coen. “So we’re going to have it all to do try to get the better of them. It’ll be good going to Ennis. I played a challenge game or two there before. It’s a great stadium, a great pitch so neither team can have any complaints about that.”
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