Slimline O'Connor aims to give Wee rivals runaround
The sudden loss of Darroch Mulhall to a mid-week appendix operation means Tomas O'Connor's ball-winning ability will be more important than ever for Kildare against Louth on Sunday.
But the towering Clane full-forward has worked particularly hard this season to ensure that he is not simply pigeon-holed as the big man in the square whose main role is to win the ball then lay it off.
Kildare were always known for being physically fit but under their new management, which includes new cutting-edge fitness expert Barry Solan, they have a markedly new leaner physique, designed more for pace than power.
The change in O'Connor – who has lost almost a stone – has been particularly dramatic.
"We came in at the start of the year and Alan Kenny (nutritionist) gave us all a programme about eating proper food," he said.
"The game has changed a bit as well in the sense that the black card is going to rule out a lot of contact so you maybe don't need to be as big as you were other years.
"If you were carrying an extra two or three kilos that was unnecessary, it was no harm losing it. I don't feel any weaker. I'm probably getting around the pitch a bit more and maybe clocking up a bit more high-intensity running during the game as well.
"I have a bit of a name for just sitting in there but I'm trying to offer new things every year and improve my game a bit.
"I tried to change it up and be a bit more unpredictable with my game. It was something I wanted to improve on. If I can bring that into championship and get a few more scores – I'll be happy."
O'Connor played most of his early football at midfield and came into the Kildare team as a third midfielder/wing-forward.
"At club level I was always midfield. Playing with Kildare minors I was wing-back so it (the full-forward role) was probably a position that was developed for me and I enjoy playing it," he said.
"There's a huge fight for positions at the moment. A lot of lads are pushing hard for places so we'll see if I can I hold on to a position or try and get some sort of game time."
Like most of his team-mates, he particularly relishes another crack at Louth – who gave them a trimming in Navan in 2010.
O'Connor came off the bench at half-time for his first game back after cruciate surgery and, despite losing, he points out that they still made the All-Ireland semi-final that summer.
With ex-Kildare selector Aidan O'Rourke now in charge of Louth, the Lilywhites were particularly wary when they met and beat the Wee County in the qualifiers last summer by seven points (1-19 to 0-15) – and O'Connor provided the goal.
"They probably look back on that game and think they should have won it and rightly so because we got a lucky goal and just about won it," he admitted. "There's a big rivalry there and we know what they have to offer.
"Everyone will think Kildare should win this one but we know differently. We know exactly what Louth have to offer. Aidan will have them well drilled."
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