This isn’t going to last forever so you want to cherish it – Cillian O’Connor
With time served comes perspective. Cillian O’Connor was just getting up and running when injury interrupted his season. He had featured off the bench in Mayo’s opening four games and earned his first league start in the win over Roscommon before a knee niggle halted his momentum.
It’s frustrating of course but he’s been around long enough to know that if he looks after all the small things, the big picture will look after itself.
He may miss this weekend’s league decider as he recovers but the desire to be ready for the big stuff hasn’t changed.
“I think personal motivation is probably similar to always,” he said ahead of Sunday’s Allianz NFL Division 1 final clash with Galway in Croke Park.
“I want to give the best account of myself that I can. I suppose I have a sense of loyalty to the group and my team-mates that I want to row in behind them and be as good as I can be for them, because when you train with people for 12 months of the year and beyond that, five, six and seven years and you see the work they put in and do to get them to the physical condition they’re in you do get that sense of ‘I want to be there beside you on the field doing the heavy work with you’.
“That’s one big thing, the sense of camaraderie in the team and wanting to be at your best for them.
“And personally you want to ... I have had a few injuries in the last couple of years, you want to get back to where you were and beyond if you can.
“And as you say when you turn 30 as well you kind of have to realise this isn’t going to last forever so you want to cherish it and enjoy it as much as you can and not feel any way weighted or any sense of undue pressure.”
While O’Connor hasn’t seen as much game-time as he would usually have by this stage of the season, Mayo have flourished.
So often their main source of scores, Mayo have carried threats in several areas this term adding to the competition for places in the forward division of Kevin McStay’s in-form team.
“It is exciting, there is definitely potential there to get plenty of guys on the scoreboard, but having said that, like any other team you can only pick 15, you can only bring on five or six.
“It does put a bit of pressure on the guys who get the jersey that you could be whipped [off] very early, you could be whipped in the first half if you are not showing for the ball and kicking scores.
“I call it pressure, but I think that is a good thing,” added O’Connor.
The strong form of Aidan O’Shea has been a major factor but his displays haven’t surprised the Ballintubber man.
“I think there will always be chat and debate around games and players and different people and positions. That’s all part of it. He’s been doing really well.
“I wouldn’t say he’s changed a whole lot. There’s been performances this year that have been very similar to ones in other years that he’s done.
“He’s been very consistent at winning the ball inside over the years.
“I remember there’s been different games where he won a power of ball, he won 80 per cent of everything kicked in and maybe the scores that he looked to lay off just didn’t materialise, and that strong performance might be forgotten or gets lost,” added O’Connor.
“I suppose the fact that we’ve had a better spread of guys pitching in to take ball off him and contribute on the scoreboard, it’s probably highlighted it more.
“But he’s always been a really strong presence at 14 any time he’s gone in there. It’s good to see him enjoying it.”
Mayo are undoubtedly the country’s form team with their only loss coming in a dead rubber against Monaghan in the concluding round but O’Connor sounds a note of caution.
“It’s still only getting to the serious stuff now, in a sense. I think, as a team, we still have lots to prove and we want to keep getting better because a lot of our league games, there were plenty of tight games, a couple of draws that could have gone either way.
“I don’t know about [Mayo] going back to the pack, I know there are loads of teams that I’m sure would be confident going to the summer or late spring.
“But I’ve been glad to see we’ve started the year pretty well because that gave the whole group confidence,” concluded the two-time All-Star.