Sunday 16 December 2018

Cillian O'Connor excited about new Mayo faces ahead of Allianz League

Cillian O’Connor featured in all of Mayo’s 20 games last year but came out of that run unscathed. Photo: Sportsfile
Cillian O’Connor featured in all of Mayo’s 20 games last year but came out of that run unscathed. Photo: Sportsfile

If Cillian O'Connor wanted a bit of downtime after last year's All-Ireland final defeat, his work situation ensured he wasn't going to get it.

As a teacher in Drimnagh Castle primary school in the capital, he had to return to face the music shortly after their agonising loss to Dublin.

He rejects the idea that the 2017 final defeat somehow hit Mayo harder than the 2016 loss or any of their other near-misses. A loss is a loss, he says, and there's a process to go through regardless of the manner of it.

"They were both pretty hard, to be honest," he reflected.

"They were probably the same. Any time that you lose a final, you are disappointed and it certainly doesn't become any easier. The manner of the defeat was very similar so there were very similar feelings afterwards, of regret."

The downtime is the hardest. County players usually roll into club action shortly after their season ends and that was the case for O'Connor last year.

But once Ballintubber were beaten in the Mayo decider his calendar became empty and that's when the 'what ifs' and thoughts of missed chances started to sneak in. And they had to be met head on.

"To be honest, once the club season finishes and you are idle and you are told to rest for a few weeks.

"That is when you have to monitor and check your thinking. If you find yourself slipping into idle thoughts about ifs and buts and maybes, then you just have to be on it and take your mind back to somewhere else...

"These thoughts are not productive, they are not coming from anywhere good, (you have to) just get into something else or flip it and start thinking about the opportunities we have this year or some way we can get better.

"But you do need to be on top of it, or else you just start getting yourself down," he said, speaking at eir sport's recent announcement about their live coverage of the forthcoming Allianz Leagues.

Mayo are looking forward now. What else can they do?

"At this stage now, it is 100pc about 2018, it is 100pc about the first league game. It is far easier to do that at the turn of the year, once January starts and you are into the routine, there is talk of the new gear arriving and there are new faces. It's very easy to focus on what is coming up.

O'Connor featured in all of Mayo's games last year from the Connacht league through to the All-Ireland final and he has come out of that 20-game run unscathed.

Mayo will be without some front-line players, such as Seamus O'Shea, Leeroy Keegan and Chris Barrett, but O'Connor will be available for Sunday's trip to Clones to face Monaghan.

"There are going to be opportunities," he said of their league campaign.

"That is the one positive of these January games, you get a chance to throw lads in and see how they go, do they sink or swim.

"With those few injuries that we have, and three or four lads returning at different times during the league, we are going to need lads to step up.

And in fairness, they are relishing it. From talking to a good few of them, they want to grab a jersey and hold on to it and it will be up to the injured lads to claim it back then."

Mayo rallied late in the league last year to secure their top-flight status. They had some hairy moments in the qualifiers but ultimately, last September this group were arguably as close as they have ever been to getting over the line.

With every passing year, talk that some of this Mayo team are on their last chance gets louder but O'Connor doesn't pay it much heed.

"We don't really talk about that to be honest, I don't think it's a case of this time… two or three players might go in the next four or five years or whatever but you'd hope there'll be two or three who have fitted in seamlessly - the team isn't 15 lads who will be turfed out and there'll be a new 15.

"There will hopefully be a period of transition where we get the same quality of player in as the ones who depart. The ideal thing is you have a constant turnover and one or two faces every year.

"But as you said, time keeps passing and you have to try and win when you have a strong team.

"It's not something we talk about but we are all aware, it is 2018 now and you're not going to have an infinite amount of chances, no player will."

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