'I took a gamble to play in decider'
Mayo star O'Connor admits preparation to face Dublin was not 100pc -- but he has no regrets
Cillian O'Connor is adamant he made the right decision to put off a shoulder operation and "gamble" by playing in the All-Ireland SFC final last September.
Mayo's most prolific forward dislocated his shoulder in the semi-final win over Tyrone, the third time he sustained the injury in under 12 months. In the four weeks between the semi-final and decider against Dublin, O'Connor underwent physio sometimes twice daily in an effort to be ready and he insists he has no regrets about it.
However, he has acknowledged that the fractured nature of his preparations throughout the summer may have had an impact on his final performance.
"You convince yourself that you're 100pc and it's not going to be an issue," he said. "The question is always there -- if I had two or three weeks of full contact, would it have had a more positive impact?
"It was definitely far from normal in the build-up. I wasn't able to do 100pc of training. That was a bit disjointed. Maybe it did have an effect, I don't know. It's hard to say. I'd love to have had four clear weeks. But I can't change that now.
"When you are on the pitch if you want to go out and play you have to put it to the back of your head. You're too busy and too tired to let it bother you when you are playing.
"It doesn't play on the mind when you are playing but in between games, the prep for games, the mental preparation in the last few weeks for training come into it. If you are not able to do full contact two weeks out from a game, that can worry you."
O'Connor, who is recovering from surgery and will not make a competitive return until the end of March at the earliest, didn't think in the week after the Tyrone game that he would face Dublin in the final.
"The first week after I was fairly pessimistic. I didn't think I'd be able to play, to be honest," he said.
"I said, 'I will do everything in my power anyway and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work, I can have no regrets.'
"So I started intense rehab a couple of times a day, then two weeks out we talked about it and it started looking like I had a chance. Then in the last week I played a training game, got through it fine and the medics had a look and I got the go-ahead.
"The risk was assessed and I was deemed fit to play. I took a small bit of a gamble but it was looked at by the experts and I decided to play."
O'Connor had his operation just over two weeks after the Dublin game in the Santry Sports Clinic, having first suffered the injury in a club game seven days after the 2012 All-Ireland final defeat.
"After one dislocation, if you rehab it yourself, there's every chance you won't have any problem with it again," he said. "There are a couple Mayo players who did it before, rehabbed for six months and never had a problem again. The plan was just to rehab it and hope it would never occur again. Unfortunately it did."
O'Connor admitted a second successive defeat in an All-Ireland final has the capacity to "blow you off your feet with the disappointment".
"It's hard to put it into words," he said. "It hits you very hard and it eats away at you for a long time. It doesn't go away the next day or the next month, it takes a long time to get over. We're still dealing with it but we can't keep looking backwards.
"If we can all just look ahead and plan for 2014 with a good positive mindset it mightn't be too bad. But it's easier said than done. You can't carry baggage beyond Christmas. You really need to zone in and focus on next year."
O'Connor makes the point that there are many players who would trade places with Mayo right now despite two successive All-Ireland final losses.
"When you break it down and look at the facts and reference people who have done that in the past (lost back-to-back All-Ireland finals), there are probably teams that would like to be in our position," he argued. "There's people that would swap places with us so I'm positive for the year coming.
"Our age profile is pretty good, our strength and conditioning from the last few years has been good and from talking to the lads, I know their mental strength is pretty good too."
O'Connor was speaking at the launch of the GAA's 'Off The Booze On The Ball' campaign, an initiative in its third year that challenges GAA teams at all levels to abstain from alcohol primarily for the month of January to raise awareness about alcohol consumption and healthier lifestyles.
This year the challenge has been extended to all third-level colleges who are participating.