Mayo need boost of league crown to spark push for Sam – O'Neill
Earlier this week, Cillian O'Connor explained how the Mayo footballers got back on the road again for the 2014 campaign.
Quite simply, they reminded themselves that, even though they suffered the heartbreak of losing two successive All-Ireland finals, playing football was something they enjoyed.
The season cranks up a notch this weekend with the Connacht men back in knockout football against Derry in a league semi-final and former Mayo star Kevin O'Neill agreed that, of the four sides in action in Croke Park tomorrow, perhaps Mayo's need to triumph is greatest.
"I don't know what the messages are internally in the squad, but my read on it is that Mayo need these competitive games at this time of year and that they need to get a bit of silverware," O'Neill said.
A prodigious talent who won an All Star as a teenager, O'Neill acknowledged that Mayo haven't found as many new faces as some of their competitors this spring.
Injury halted Adam Gallagher's early season gallop and while the likes of David Drake, Brendan Harrison, Conor O'Shea and Diarmuid O'Connor have all been tipped for big things, gradually Mayo have returned to their tried and trusted stars.
"Have we come up with one or two extra players maybe like Tyrone? Probably not, but I think that's the nature of the squad James has.
"Mayo haven't brought home silverware, but you can't fault the attitude or commitment to the cause. They have been extremely resilient.
"A lot of other teams might have thrown their hat at it at this stage, but it's a credit to the squad that they persevere and great credit is due to the players and management to keep it going after being kicked back so many times."
The major black spot came in the league draw with Dublin. Jim Gavin's side have so often been the cuckoo in the nest for Mayo and O'Neill admitted it's a concern that they couldn't close out a game against 14-man Dublin with a six-point advantage.
"It's a combination of things. Dublin are a good side and have footballers that can do damage at the flick of a switch. In those last couple of minutes Mayo could have used the ball a lot better and closed the game out.
"I won't say they should have been cynical, but they could have been a lot more ruthless.
"They should have definitely closed it out. You'd be very concerned about why they didn't close out that game when it really mattered."
Andy Moran started that match, but Alan Dillon is still on the comeback trail. Both men are veterans who have suffered their fair share of injuries, but O'Neill insisted they'll still be front and centre for Mayo's assault on Sam Maguire this year.
"They are exceptionally bright footballers and good decision-makers on the ball. I don't buy into the concept they have too many miles on the clock. They are extremely well conditioned and they mind themselves well.
"The more times Mayo can get Alan Dillon and Andy Moran on the ball, it will be positive because possession is even more critical now.
"If Mayo want to open up defences they need good kickers and they are as good as what is around.
"This particular group have been on the go together for a couple of years. I know the players will want to win the league and that will set them up nicely going into the championship.
"I don't buy into the concept that it would take something out of the players in terms of appetite and fitness. If you asked most teams in the country, they would say they'd like to be challenging for the league. I would say Mayo have their eyes set on the National League title."
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