Mayo's final destination has Dillon flying high
CALL Alan Dillon a 'journey man' and you're describing him accurately after a winter sojourn spent travelling thousands of miles around the southern hemisphere.
Mayo stars Dillon and Conor Mortimer embarked on the trip of a lifetime to Thailand, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa over a period of nearly five months.
Talk about getting away from it all! These guys did it in style. No freezing, miserable winter for them trying to get enthusiastic about gym sessions on dark nights.
The two lads did the tourist trail, saw the sights and tried out all kinds of activities during their long vacation. And unlike the majority of Irish travellers in that part of the globe, they weren't worrying about working their way from country to country.
"We were called 'flash-packers' not back-packers because they knew we weren't out there looking for jobs," smiles Dillon.
The two footballers left Ireland in the middle of October and were back on February 26, having enjoyed the novelty and the experiences of their holiday. Back home, John O'Mahony and his merry men were getting a good start to the league campaign.
"We were in New Zealand when we heard about the win over Galway and in South Africa when we got the word they'd beaten Tyrone," recalls Dillon. "So you're looking at having four points on the board and the pressure is lifted off the team.
"Then it's a case of going out to express yourself with a certain amount of freedom from there. It was good news to get and we weren't neglecting our fitness while we were away.
"We did a bit regularly and there was active stuff we were doing -- the likes of trekking and that -- which kept us going, so when we came back it was just a question of finding out how far behind the lads we were in terms of fitness.
"It wasn't too bad. We got in some good sessions and had a few matches behind closed doors within the squad and that helped get us back into it.
"The funny thing is that very quickly you felt you had never been away, but it was great to have that break and recharge the batteries in a totally different environment."
Croke Park in a league final against Cork is another environmental challenge for Mayo and one for which Dillon and his red-and-green colleagues will relish. You won't find the Ballintubber club player subscribing to the view that the league is a meaningless early-season exercise.
"No matter what code you play, being it football or hurling, at the start of the league your ambition is to win it," Dillon remarks. "Winning down in Cork in our last match was good for us because we had to make sure of our own position. People talk about them missing a few players, but we didn't play brilliantly and we missed a few chances.
"We all know that game won't have any bearing on this league final. Every game is different and you won't know exactly how you are until you're in the battle and trying to think on your feet -- but no doubt, it will be fierce intense come Sunday."
What a good test this final is for Mayo. They are in the national spotlight, they've earned their right to be there, and now they have an early-season chance to test themselves at Croker. All very useful, indeed, but Dillon is very aware that the championship tests to come will carry their own health warning to reputations and aspirations.
"Yes, people are talking about the league final now. It's great to be in that final, and it would be great to win it, but we have Sligo in our first championship match, and nobody's talking too much about them," Dillon explains.
"They're in their own league final (Division 3) and they've given themselves an ideal platform for their own championship campaign. We'll do all we can against Cork and then we have to focus our thoughts on Sligo."