Monday 19 March 2018

'I was never as glad to see the league start this year' - Cillian O'Connor has put missed All-Ireland free behind him

Hectic campaign helps O'Connor to park 2016

Mayo's Cillian O'Connor. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Mayo's Cillian O'Connor. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Cillian O'Connor did something last spring he hadn't done before in his previous six seasons as an inter-county footballer: play every one of Mayo's seven regulation league matches.

He did something too that he hadn't done since 2012: turn out for Mayo's final two Connacht league matches, a definite shift in early season emphasis.

Up to last January O'Connor had featured in just five Connacht league and 27 of Mayo's 46 Allianz League matches, coming off the bench in 10.

A combination of injury, prolonged campaigns at the back end of the previous year requiring additional rest and even suspension had seen him used sparingly in these campaigns.

But in 2017 he sought to hit the ground running, immersing himself in competition as early as he possibly could.

The best way to put 2016 and any lingering memory of that last-minute free dragged just wide at the near post to draw the All-Ireland final replay with Dublin? "I don't think about it a whole lot now," reflects O'Connor, ahead of Sunday's Connacht semi-final with Galway - the team that dethroned them 12 months ago.

"The lads had been slagging me. I hadn't played much FBD League the last few years and they were always ribbing me that I took the January and February off and let them do the hard slogging.

"This year I was never as glad to see the league starting and the games up and running again because, we had our few weddings over Christmas which were great craic and then the team holiday, but by the time the league started we were like, 'Let's get this going again, let's get started'.

"The point I'm making is that the two or three Connacht league games took my focus for January and then February we were into seven games in ten weeks.

"Right up to now my focus has been game-on-game, not even intentionally. But I'm glad that I haven't been harping back to September and October," he admits.

"At the time, of course, it is a serious disappointment. That is stating the obvious. Then you have to go through it and analyse it.

"There is a period where you try and reflect on it, to see what you could have done better, and that's hard. But then, after that, you have to leave it there and enjoy your off-season. So since the turn of the year, I haven't watched it back."

O'Connor had scored nine from nine frees in that replay, having had the nerve to kick the equaliser from play in quite spectacular fashion 13 days earlier.

He appreciates that the miss will always be magnified more than other mistakes because of its timing.

"There would be mistakes that I made in the first half that might not have garnered any sort of attention or they might have been the chance of a score when I didn't make the right run and get the ball," he continues.

"That would have resulted in a one-point increase for Mayo as well but it just doesn't get the same sort of attention as something that is the last kick of the game, which is obviously more dramatic.

"I don't weight it ten times heavier than all the other mistakes I made. There were plenty of other things I could have done that could have also increased our score by one so I just take it for what it was, a free that I could have scored and didn't."


That said, his free-taking has had the same metronomic feel to it as other seasons, misses against Kerry in Tralee and Donegal in Castlebar, two games they won, out of sync with his usual level of consistency.

"As a free-taker the last seven or eight years, you have to be pretty cold about it. You could hit a brilliant free in the first minute and if you are thinking about that in the second minute you are on your arse with your defender.

"Same way if you kick a bad free, you have to win the next ball and you can't be thinking about something that happened 30 seconds ago.

"So you definitely can't be thinking about something that happened eight, nine months ago. It's easy talk. Time will tell if I am able to improve."

Galway players have spoken of their success rate in Castlebar but O'Connor can point to an unblemished record in Pearse Stadium, Sunday's venue, though he acknowledges he's only played there a few times.

For a free-taker, the weather is always worth watching though O'Connor has learned lessons from the past.

"I'm not going to let it throw me off too much because God knows it could be 30 degrees - I got scalded up there one year watching Mayo-Galway - or it could be a thunderstorm. Who knows?"

Irish Independent

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