Tuesday 17 September 2019

Dáil hopeful Alan Dillon hoping sport and politics continue to mix

Alan Dillon with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis last week
Alan Dillon with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael Ard Fheis last week
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

For Alan Dillon, sport and politics have to mix.

That's because things haven't slowed down since he retired from Mayo duty after the 2017 campaign. The space left by his exit from the county scene has been quickly filled. If anything, life has picked up pace.

There's the day job with Westport-based pharmaceutical company Allergan. In the evenings, he's laying the ground work for a tilt at the Dáil, whenever the next general election might come. In between, he's hoping to bring Ballintubber to new heights when they contest the Connacht Club SFC final tomorrow against Corofin.

It hasn't been easy, keeping all the plates spinning. The precarious nature of the government means that the gun to signal the start of a general election could go off at almost any time.

The confidence and supply agreement is fragile, meaning Dillon has to be ready to go at a moment's notice. Staying ready is the key, so he splits his time between the day job and what he hopes will be the day job. "We have different canvass teams in different areas at the minute, then there could be a campaign meeting," Dillon said explaining his diary.

"On another night we could be canvassing door to door and another night there might be either a talk with the IFA or some lobby groups or an event that we have to go to. It varies. And that's the thing about politics. There is no set day or week, it varies all the time.

"For the last 15 years playing county, it's very fast-paced, your time is managed and dictated to... you can only plan maybe a week out and that's what I'm doing here as well, managing my time. For me, it's about meeting people at the minute, laying out your message and getting around.

"It takes a while to adjust I won't lie but I am enjoying it, I don't feel it being a burden, that's the satisfying thing from it."

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Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny has stepped down from the seat held by his family for more than 60 years, opening the door for Dillon to run. Being Alan Dillon helps. Mayo people love their footballers, especially ones who put down as distinguished a shift as Dillon. It helps him get his foot in the door in many places, but he knows it won't get him over the line.

"You can't just be the Mayo footballer you have to show that you are a candidate of substance, that you have potential and that's what I'm doing at the minute. Having played for Mayo for so long there is familiarity in different parishes.

"Throughout my sporting career I have visited loads of communities and areas and parishes and towns and villages. And I would be well known which is an added bonus but at the minute I'm trying to lay a foothold in my home patch around Castlebar. But yeah, it has its advantages alright."

In between he's trying to keep 36-year-old legs ticking over. When Dillon started with Ballintubber as a teenager, they were considered in the shake-up for a county intermediate title. Tomorrow, they'll get their second chance at a Connacht senior crown, having also lost to Corofin in the 2014 provincial decider.

"We'd have been contesting intermediate finals but never able to break through. And at that stage the dominant forces were Ballina, Knockmore, Crossmolina, who'd a huge dominance over Mayo football, north Mayo were the kingpins but that has changed dramatically with Castlebar Mitchels and ourselves over the last eight years taking four each which I probably thought would never be possible.

"We are in a great era for the club in terms of personnel, ambition, determination and the commitment the lads have shown over the past number of years."

When they met in 2014, the Galway champions dominated from pillar to post and would go on to win an All-Ireland title the following March, beating Slaughtneil by 10 points.

Massive "In the semi-final that year we beat St Brigid's by a point and that was huge because we had probably let ourselves down in the previous two campaigns.

"Getting to a Connacht final in '14, it was a massive achievement. On the day we were bitterly disappointed and we never got going. Corofin dominated from the first minute to the last and honestly we were really disappointed that we never performed.

"It's taken four long years to get back to another Connacht final and we see what Castlebar have done since then by winning Connacht finals and getting to All-Irelands. That's something that has driven this group on, taking that step and lock into Sunday's match and make that breakthrough."

Whatever happens tomorrow, he'll be back on the trail next week, navigating the byroads and back roads of his constituency, meeting people and making his case as Fine Gael try to capture three of the four seats in Mayo. The nature of politics is such that he'll get plenty of grief when he knocks on doors and speaks at meetings. He accepts that's part of the gig.

"It's like anything, you have good days and bad days. I don't take it personally. People need to vent when they need to vent, I take it, accept it and move on and don't dwell on it, I'm that type of character. I accept people's opinions.

"If they have criticism and it's justified, accept it. If it's not I'll definitely oppose it. But it's like on the pitch, you become thick-skinned. People have their opinions and you have to accept them."

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