O'Connor: I never pay attention to what people say
Mayo ace O'Connor does all his talking on the pitch, writes John Fallon
Mayo's top marksman Cillian O'Connor prefers to do his talking on the field than engage in the debate that the Green and Red just don't have the forwards to end their All-Ireland famine.
O'Connor is back to his best after undergoing shoulder surgery in the autumn and his display in the Connacht final against Galway again hammered the myth that Mayo don't have the forwards to go all the way.
O'Connor has heard it all before. The 22-year old, Young Footballer of the Year in 2011 and 2012, said he just doesn't pay any heed to it.
"Well, the people in the loop – genuine football people – can weigh things up themselves. People who throw out rash comments or generalisations like that are probably best ignored and I don't think there is anything to be gained by engaging in those conversations.
"They can be tiring. Everyone is going to speculate as to why teams win and lose and that is natural. But there is no reason for myself to be weighing in or getting involved. We will have our own review and that is all that matters for us.
"It doesn't bother me in the slightest. It is each to their own, but the general debate or online chatrooms and that... I don't think I have anything to gain from listening to those things.
"As long as the Mayo management team feel I am playing well and am worthy of a squad position, then I am happy. They would be the only ones I am trying to impress. After that you have take everything with a pinch of salt."
The Ballintubber sharpshooter is really enjoying his football after enduring so much difficulty with a shoulder last season which had him doubtful for the All-Ireland final against Dublin.
He underwent surgery in October and eventually returned to action in April in the league.
"It is great to have a couple of months of injury-free training under your belt. Even just mentally, you start enjoying your football more and you are not strapping your body with tape or having to mind yourself and focus on making the team and playing well.
"There was a lot of attention paid to my injury. I only realised it after (the All-Ireland final) when I looked back at everything that was talked about. It wasn't that big a distraction for me to be honest, because the physios and James (Horan) and everyone involved kind of dealt with it very well.
"I didn't have to go to press things or media. I was either at home or in my house in Dublin. I didn't lock myself away but I kept away from a lot of things and didn't read any of it. My only focus was on getting it right and getting home. There was very little interaction with, say, people who would be speculating on the injury. I was kept away from a lot of that, but after the game I saw the level of attention it got."
O'Connor said that while the injury cast a doubt over him being able to line out against Dublin in the final, he didn't think it was a factor during the game.
"I would like to think it wasn't. I think when the ball was thrown in, that is kind of it – your natural instincts come out to play your natural game. I would like to think it didn't hinder me. The only thing that did play on my mind was the training.
"You like to get your two or three weeks quality training in before a big game even mentally to get your touch in and my training was probably disrupted. I wasn't able to do everything up until the final week.
"I came back in the Westmeath league game in April. I think I was a little bit behind the lads. I had done all the running with physios and the rehab work away from the squad. It is not like the old days where you go from doing nothing to suddenly being in with the squad. I think I was in decent condition, but my touch was a little bit off. After a few weeks I got back to myself."
O'Connor said the desire is as strong as ever in Mayo to end the famine since their last win in 1951 and that the All-Ireland defeats of the last two years have not had an impact. They won their fourth Connacht title in a row when they swept past Galway, but he felt they got it tougher in the province this year and that might stand to them.
"They were closer games than last year. It was a difficult day in Roscommon. Conditions weren't great and Roscommon played well. They had a couple of new players, dangerous players that caused us problems. It was good to come through that and show the character in the last five or 10 minutes.
"I think we played some great football against Galway in patches and took the goals well, but we were probably a little bit open and a little bit fortunate in the times that they cut us open."
Sunday's meeting with Cork is the first in the championship since his maiden season in 2011 when they won.
"I remember that well. It was my first year on the panel and it was a bit of an upset.
"But both teams have changed fairly radically since that day and there is not a lot we can take from the game. We played a lot of good football that day and it gave us the confidence to believe we could compete at the highest level."
O'Connor made a seamless transition from minor to senior and younger brother Diarmuid is doing that as well this year after lifting the minor All-Ireland last September.
O'Connor is only 22, but it seems as if he has been around for years and even he is surprised by how quickly lads come up through the ranks.
"It is strange. Lads you would have seen playing U-14 or U-16 or minor are suddenly playing senior for the club and county and doing well for themselves.
"It is nice to have Diarmuid there, but it reminds me that another year is passing and another crop of players are after your jersey.
"I think it is a healthy thing to have. This year ... Stephen Coen and Diarmuid and Adam Gallagher – the way they have adapted to football.
"Adam was a regular starter in the league and put up big scores. He played like he was there for years. They do put pressure on us and drive us on and nobody can relax."
He tries to impart a few words of wisdom to the younger brother now and again, but the fickleness of youth often means it doesn't get through.
"He is always trying to look for an edge. If he gets any more ahead of himself I will be telling him to get his own lift to training."
"He hasn't even played much for Ballintubber seniors. I have played maybe four times with him in the club and four or five with Mayo. It is strange.
He is hungry and the way you are at 18 or 19, you have no respect for reputations or big names, they are just mad for playing and they are the kind you need."