Cillian O’Connor: ‘We know the dangers of Championship football’
By Cian O’Connell
Mayo carry the heavy burden of Green and Red expectation into every Connacht Senior Football Championship campaign, but Cillian O’Connor isn’t concerned.
Stephen Rochford’s team face Sligo at Elverys MacHale Park on May 21, Mayo players are well and truly accustomed to these potentially tricky western games.
“If we get caught up with external expectations, what is being expected outside the group, you could get distracted or lose focus, you are going to get beaten,” O’Connor says.
“We don’t need to be reminded about the dangers of Championship football, the only games you are guaranteed is the next game ahead of you.”
O’Connor felt that Sligo would have the character and class to secure a win over New York at Gaelic Park. “I checked the result, there was a lot of talk about New York and the team that they had put together, and the players they had,” O’Connor admits.
“But I just saw the Sligo team and I just thought that there was enough experience there, enough people that have played in seven, eight, nine, 10 Championship campaigns to get a result over in New York.
“They have a good mix of experience and youth. They had the pace that suit the fast ground, but they also had the wise heads to get the scores when they needed them.”
Aidan O’Shea’s return to competitive action at the end of the Allianz League was significant too according to O’Connor. “It’s important, it’s hugely important that we get all of our players as fit as we can after injury,” O’Connor says.
“We had a good few boys who were out at the early stages of the league. We spent of time trying to get them up to speed, get them into training, but also trying to get minutes into their legs and match exposure to them so that they had match intensity.
“The Donegal game was a perfect game for someone like that to come back into because the pace was so frantic and it was so fast. As well as the influence he had on the game, and the boost he gave us, it was brilliant for him as well.
"Even for his own progress that he got 30 minutes or close enough to it, of quality nearly Championship pace football. It was good for those people that were out injured.
“There were two or three others in a similar boat to get club football in the Club Championship as well, because Championship is on the horizon now.”
A year ago Galway surprised Mayo in Castlebar and O’Connor acknowledges that result and display hurt the locals. “Yeah, it was very big and very disappointing,” O’Connor states.
“I can remember the game very clearly and the feeling after it very clearly. I was saying it in the week coming into that game, every time we got a Championship match in Castlebar everything is on the line and we knew it was going to be a tough game.
“I’d know a lot of the Galway lads from different grades all the way up and I knew what a task it was going to be. There were different swings of momentum in that game as well and some key moments, but that memory is fresh in our heads. We just have to make sure we perform better the next day.”
During the Allianz Football League O’Connor operated at centre forward, a role that he enjoys fulfilling. “I have played there before in other years,” O’Connor remarks.
“So I had a bit of experience playing there, I have played a bit there with the club. I like playing out there as well, you get on different types of possession than you would inside.
“Every ball you get on, might not have to be a 40-yard sprint, or a break from right to left. You can get on different types of possession from breaking ball or from handpasses out of defence. Certain aspects of that suit me and I influenced some of the games I played out there.”
O’Connor’s immediate focus, though, is trying to help Mayo plant the Green and Red flag on the summit of Connacht football again.
“It’s huge, absolutely huge,” O’Connor admits. “It’s not that different from when we came into the campaign as reigning champions.
“In those years we had a huge drive to win it again and I wouldn’t say it’s any different this year. The Connacht Championship is there to be won, there’s nobody’s name on it yet and the same as ever our group are really hungry to get it.”