Tuesday 16 January 2018

Dillon learning to keep fit in a whole new ball game

Alan Dillon has the chance to win a sixth Connacht SFC medal on Sunday
Alan Dillon has the chance to win a sixth Connacht SFC medal on Sunday

Declan Rooney

Coping with injuries and preventing them from returning is part and parcel of a GAA player's life nowadays.

As the game has developed and strength and conditioning has been ramped up, it seems the occurrence of persistent niggles has also climbed.

Mayo's Colm Boyle spoke this week of returning to "a different game" after spending three seasons away from the Mayo panel (2009 to 2011), but Alan Dillon was there right through the changeover.

A more physical game is beginning to take its toll and, ever since last year's All-Ireland final defeat to Donegal, Dillon has had to approach his preparation from a radically different direction. Suffering from osteitis pubis – the same injury that curtailed Mark McHugh's league campaign – Dillon (30) has to tailor his training to be fit for match day. Gone are the days of hitting the 'red zone' before a game.

Frustrated

"I'm a fella who is used to fifth gear; I'm a hundred-miles-an-hour type guy and this is the first injury that I've been frustrated with – that hasn't cleared up as quickly as I thought," he said. "It was an injury that you would have some questions about. It took a bit of discipline and education for myself in order to learn how to manage things, but now, hopefully, I have it under control.

"It's a common enough injury now with footballers. Alan Brogan has it, Richard Dunne in soccer has the same injury and you just have to learn to manage it.

"Recovery is the big one; it is ensuring that you do your rehab correctly and that you recover as best you can after sessions. I have not missed many collective sessions now in a couple of months, so it is just managing the load, interacting with the medical team and making sure that you're 100pc," said Dillon, who is hoping for a sixth Connacht title on Sunday against London.

Before Mayo took their Connacht championship bow against Galway, Dillon had only logged a fleeting appearance off the bench during the national league and he was determined to lay down a marker at Pearse Stadium.

"It was my first game and I was in the height of excitement running out to get my first start. It is always a big game for Mayo and it was great to come out of Pearse Stadium with a win," said the Ballintubber clubman.

"Everyone was shocked by the Galway performance that day and I suppose it never has been as easy as it was that day in Salthill. We brought a serious intensity to that game and Galway could not live with it.

"We are at a level where we improved in Division 1 over the past two seasons and we have reached league semi-finals and finals. It is down to ourselves to maximise the performances in championship and that is what we intend to do."

As a 10-year veteran of the Mayo camp, Dillon has a few memories of playing London in the Connacht championship. Memories of Ruislip in 2011 should produce an instant cold sweat for Mayo's captain for that meeting with the Exiles, but he took a heavy knock to the head and he still cannot remember the game.

Despite being foggy on the details, he knows how much things have improved since. "I got concussed, so I can't really remember the second-half. Listen, we are a different unit to what we were two years ago," he said.

"A lot of the personnel that togged out that day are not around any more. The work that we have put in for the past two seasons we can really maximise it in the Connacht final against London.

"It was James (Horan's) first year, so he was new to the scene.

"If you look back to where we were prep-wise and pre-match, it has changed completely, it is a far more professional set-up now. We were lucky, but we improved as the season went on that year. We got to a semi-final against Kerry and we built on that.

"But I always honestly thought that there was a good group of players there and it just needed someone to bring it together as professionally as James has.

"We have got fellas to a level now where we can really compete. This is three (titles) we are going for and there is no reason why we can't dominate for a couple of years."

While the primary focus for the year is another crack at the All-Ireland title, Dillon is happy to hoover up any loose silverware along the way.

"Connacht medals are still precious to the players and you butter your bread in Connacht first before you look any further," he said.

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