O'Connor aiming high with Mayo
Published 29/02/2012 | 05:00
SATURDAY night's trip to Armagh kicks off a run of six games in six weeks for Mayo that will decide whether they will make the League semi-finals -- and Cillian O'Connor knows that could exact a heavy price on the Connacht side.
Failure to make the last-four would see them face 77 days of inactivity before they enter the Championship on June 24.
They'll welcome either Leitrim or London to Castlebar that day, but that would come a full 11 weeks after their last scheduled League match against Kerry on April 8 and O'Connor knows that with the possibility of such a long break, they need as many competitive matches as possible.
"We want to go as far as we can," said O'Connor. "We want a winning mentality. Our first round (Championship game) isn't until late June, so we want to get as much game time as we can. It's ambitious, but we might as well try and win every game and see where it takes us.
"We need to stay in competitive football as long as we can and keep on improving."
O'Connor has had a whirlwind 12 months. The Ballintubber man featured only sporadically in the League, but by the time Mayo lost to Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final he was firmly established as James Horan's first-choice free-taker and was subsequently named Young Footballer of the Year.
"I wasn't really expecting it to happen so fast," revealed O'Connor, who turns 20 in May. "But that's just the way it is -- if you grab a jersey and start playing well, anyone can nail down a position. That happened to be me last summer and it could be another guy this summer."
O'Connor's emergence has broadened Horan's attacking options and with Conor Mortimer back from a long-term knee injury and Andy Moran continuing his comeback from a broken leg, O'Connor believes there is a new depth to the panel.
"Competition is a good thing, certainly. We haven't always had it there and the competition is only going to help us," he said.
"We did improve last year, but it ended with a nine-point loss in the semi-final. There is a long way to go. A lot of teams are clinical finishers -- Kerry, Cork and Dublin take any half-chance and any mistake, and it is punished. You don't get let off against those guys. Maybe if we can be more clinical up front with the forwards we have, we can improve."