Mayo's man of perpetual motion back in top gear after injury
Alan Dillon ready to fight for place as Westerners return to quest for Holy Grail
At last, Alan Dillon can sense some open road ahead.
Mayo's man of perpetual motion for the last decade has not been able to travel smoothly over the last 18 months.
The wheels have been turning, but the gears have been slow to shift as the combined effect of stomach and groin problems curtailed him.
The condition 'rectus abdominis', something similar to what kept Alan Brogan out of the game for so long, took him to Gerry McEntee's operating table in the Mater Private Hospital last autumn to correct a problem that had first surfaced 12 months earlier in the middle of a compressed club campaign after their All-Ireland final defeat to Donegal.
That he got through 2013 at all – starting all six championship games – was a testament to his resilience and commitment to rehabilitation.
"I couldn't train, and the number of training sessions I was missing, I didn't enjoy it. I was just managing, really," he recalled. Naturally the form that took him to an All Star in 2013 was affected.
"It was just the load, the quantity, the training we were doing with Mayo, it's just very intense. It was something that was difficult to nail down.
"I went down the road of rehab, unfortunately it didn't work, so corrective surgery was the other option.
"But credit to the medics – at the end of last year we got to the bottom of it and the rehab has been successful."
The option to have surgery last year was there, but sometimes amateur sportspeople just don't have that room to manoeuvre.
"I went down that route of talking to various consultants. It was hard in-season.
"We are amateurs, we have to go to work. We wouldn't have that professional time to recover, to get the rehab, to get the level of training and fitness.
"The game has gone so intense and so fast that, if you miss a block of training, you are always trying to play catch up. So I suppose it wasn't an option, really.
"Now I'm confident to say that I'm training at the maximum, at the 100pc level where you are out of control and you can get to that uncomfortable phase in training.
"Last year there was always that doubt whether you could go past your normal threshold. Training this year has gone very well, especially over the last couple of weeks.
"I needed to know for myself that I'm good to go, all guns blazing. This is something I've done all my life.
"I wasn't going to just throw the towel in and say, 'I'm retiring, I'm finishing.' It never crossed my mind. There's another few years left in me. That's the way I feel now.
"Training is going very well. We've got one of the best coaches in Ireland here. The strength and conditioning coach... they're all at the top of their game.
"There's a good vibe in the camp and it's been like that since we started back in January."
Dillon has come into this championship further down the grid in the minds of the management than he has been for some time.
He is 31 now and with just a few fleeting minutes against Tyrone last year to show for two seasons of league football, his selection is no longer the formality it has been since he established firm roots in 2004.
And he could even have his old minor team-mate Gavin Duffy challenging for a place at some stage if it works out for the former Connacht and Ireland rugby player.
Dillon is the only current Mayo squad member to have played Gaelic football with Duffy during the 1999 All-Ireland minor campaign that ended in defeat to Down.
"In fairness, he was the powerhouse in the midfield department. He was way more developed than a lot of us at that stage in '99. It's great to have him back.
"I would have followed him with Connacht and with Ireland. He's a good fella around the camp. He keeps everyone honest and he'll add that couple of per cent to everyone's game that is of benefit to the overall squad.
"Gavin is equipping himself well in training and he's physical.
"His physical presence is something that we probably didn't have, bar Aidan and Seamie, in that middle third department."
At what stage, if at all, Mayo decide to include Duffy at competitive level remains to be seen, but Dillon feels he has "every chance" of contributing.
"I wouldn't say he's a manufactured footballer, he has natural ability. If you compare him to other footballers, he's similar to some of our current lads.
"He's not a million miles off. It will take time to feel comfortable in that environment and playing with that intensity.
"From speaking to him, the big thing he notices is the quickness of the turn of the feet, that type of stuff.
"It's just the intensity of the game and where it's gone from when he was 18 or 19 years of age.
"He's come to grips with it, the five-a-side games, the cross-field games, the simulate games – he's learning every time."
Ahead of Sunday's Connacht SFC clash with Roscommon, Dillon makes light of the general consensus that Mayo lack sufficient individual flair in attack to see them over the line.
"It's water off a duck's back for us. Statistics will show that we can convert chances and we have done it in the past 24 months. There's no real inner problem, it's just a matter of getting the combinations right.
"James (Horan) has looked at that again this year and I'm sure he'll freshen things up. It's something that's portrayed out there and it doesn't make for any difference.
"We just have to work on our game and our skills, and it will come right.
"That talk has probably been there since 1996-97, so it's been around since I started that Mayo lack forwards. It's everyone's opinion to themselves. For us players, we take no heed."
Dillon does, however, agree that losing four All-Ireland finals – as he has done – presents a greater toll.
"But what can you do? You can't turn the clock back. You can just say to yourself, 'Okay keep going'.
"At some stage we will get that 70- minute winning performance. It starts next Sunday. Every step for us is in order to play at our max for 70 minutes. What we did in '04 and '06 is redundant now."