Tuesday 17 July 2018

O'Connor brothers determined to transfer club success into glory on biggest stage of all

Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor in action against Daniel Maye of Sligo during the Connacht SFC final
Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor in action against Daniel Maye of Sligo during the Connacht SFC final

Daragh Small

There are many in Ballintubber who hope it's only a matter of time before the O'Connor brothers replicate the glory with Mayo which they have brought to their own small club.

Ballintubber is a club with a massive history in Mayo GAA and brothers Cillian and Diarmuid O'Connor hold the key to its future.

It took exactly 100 years for them to land their first Mayo senior football championship title in 2010. Just five years on they are three-time winners with further titles in 2011 and 2014 and they also reached last year's Connacht club final.

They were beaten by Corofin who went on to win the All-Ireland title but Ballintubber have been instrumental in Mayo's drive for five.

Former Young Footballer of the Year Cillian O'Connor, 23, and Diarmuid, 20, have kicked 1-20 between them in just two championship games this year.

But Ballintubber also supply twice All-Star Alan Dillon while Jason Gibbons and Danny Geraghty have floated in and out of the county squad.

Ballintubber native James Horan was in charge as the club won their first county title in 2010 before then taking over Mayo and leading them to four Connacht titles.

The O'Connors are now aiming for All-Ireland glory to replicate their fellow clubman Paddy Prendergast who starred in the 1951 team that last lifted Sam Maguire.

But it's in the blood for the O'Connors. Dad Tony is originally from Ballintubber while their mother Mary is also from another football heartland, Crossmolina, who won the All-Ireland club title in 2001.

Club chairman Sean Hallinan said the family was steeped in the GAA and that the earnest wish was that they would go on to achieve with Mayo what they have done for Ballintubber.

"The O'Connors would have had a long history and tradition of serving the club very well down through the years.

"And the brothers would have been born into a family that are stepped in GAA so it was only natural the way it worked out for them," said Hallinan.

"We never made the breakthrough at senior until 2010 but had won numerous underage titles from 2000 onwards.

"This is an exceptional crop of players that have fallen together at the same time and they are wholly committed to Ballintubber.

"There was a whole different ethos in the way they approached things in recent years and it has been tremendously successful, led by the O'Connors."

Cillian has become one of the best exponents of Gaelic football in the land but Hallinan says the Diarmuid is fast catching up.

Their other brothers Ruairi and Pádraic are also footballers for the club with the latter involved as Mayo reached the All-Ireland final in 2004 when they lost to Kerry.

"Everyone knows about Cillian, he is the supreme finisher. He knows how to use space. He knows how to use his body to create opportunities for himself and others. And he is unfazed - a few years ago in the All-Ireland final he was nailing '45s into the Hill against the Dubs in Croke Park.

"Diarmuid really came on the scene last year but he is growing into his role and is becoming a serious player. The lad has got heaps of stamina, he is blessed with the best of skills and can go up and down the field from beginning to end."

Cillian O'Connor believes that they now need to push on from Connacht success.

"We have come back well from the disappointment of last year and have trained hard over the last six months keeping our heads down. We have had good runs in Connacht before and faltered after that."

His brother Diarmuid doesn't have the same experience on the big occasion but has the drive.

"I can't wait to go and play in Croke Park again. I was only there a couple of times so far but it is where you want to be and I cannot wait."

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