O'Connor 'itching' for Mayo to build on Horan legacy
After a third successive agonising exit from the Championship, Mayo players might be forgiven for recoiling from the thoughts of another season.
But their prolific forward Cillian O'Connor says they are too far down the road to turn back or even hesitate now. They must press on.
The departure of James Horan as manager after four progressive years, allied to the Kerry defeat in the All-Ireland semi-final, stopped them in their tracks last August but the pause has been brief.
O'Connor sees player-driven momentum carrying them quickly into the new season under new joint managers Noel Connelly and Pat Holmes.
"It's strange, you think you need eight weeks off but after two or three you're actually itching to go again," he reflected. "The fact is the average age of the squad is quite low. I don't think there'll be any retirements. I still think the hunger and the enthusiasm is there, but we'll see how we react."
O'Connor, part of the Opel GAA/GPA All Star tour to Boston, admits he never felt as low in his career as he did after the game in Limerick. Even two All-Ireland final defeats didn't cut as deep after an evening when he collided with colleague Aidan O'Shea required treatment for a long spell and he then picked up a late red card.
"The week after the game was probably the lowest I ever felt. The fact that James was in his fourth year, people might have wondered was that going to be his last year. That probably had a bit to do with it (scale of disappointment) too," he said.
O'Connor feels Horan has left an outstanding legacy that the players must build on. "James and his team set the standards for us in the last few years and they are very high. The players have to take responsibility now and help to drive the thing on," he said.
"Pat and Noel have worked with the majority of the squad. I think Andy (Moran) and myself are the only two who they didn't manage when we were U-21. The boys rate them very highly. They were very successful and won four Connacht U-21s and the 2006 All-Ireland. So they have a massive pedigree."
O'Connor doesn't expect any retirements and is confident that his Ballintubber clubmate Alan Dillon will remain on.
"He hasn't come out and said either way, but knowing him well I'd expect him to continue," reasoned O'Connor. "The condition he keeps himself in and the way he lives his life would mean another season would be no problem for him, physically anyway.
"I hope he does, because he's a massive asset to have around the place, just his character, personality, experience and leadership are definitely valued."
The age profile of the current Mayo squad may dip down with the prospect of more of the 2013 All-Ireland minor team graduating. "I know some of them and they're extremely hungry and eager to start taking some of our positions which is brilliant."