Conor Loftus relishing return to action
By Cian O’Connell
During four months without competitive football, Conor Loftus got himself primed and ready for the return to action.
Having impressed for his club Crossmolina Deel Rovers, Loftus has subsequently flourished in a new midfield role for Connacht champions Mayo.
Loftus has certainly been one of the success stories in James Horan’s rejuvenated team, forming an industrious centrefield partnership with Mattie Ruane.
Those uncertain days when Gaelic Football wasn’t on the agenda, Loftus found it a challenge. “It was, for the first while it was new not being able to go training with the lads, things like that,” Loftus says ahead of Sunday’s All Ireland SFC semi-final against Tipperary at Croke Park.
“I live beside the football pitch in Crossmolina so I was still able to go over, to do a bit of kicking. You found novel ways of training, whether it was your own little home gym in the house, you'd try to do circuit training, to mix it up every week.”
Altering the approach was critical according to Loftus. “Every day you were training you were trying to do something new, just to entertain yourself a bit,” Loftus adds.
“You had ups and downs throughout the few months. Some weeks you'd be flying it, you'd put in a massive week, it would be great, you wouldn't feel like you were missing it too much, you were building towards when you were coming back.
“Other weeks it was a bit of a struggle, you were getting fed up of going over to the pitch by yourself or training by yourself.
“You just wanted to meet up with a few of the lads, to get a bit of a buzz or a kick off them. It wasn't too bad, you had ups and downs throughout the few months, but looking back on it, probably it was nice for a change. You trained in a different way so it was interesting.”
Now as a dramatic Championship continues to unfold, Cleveland Cavaliers enthusiast Loftus is adamant about the value and benefit of live sport.
“Definitely, 100 per cent,” Loftus replies. “You can see it in people, especially in this winter time. Everyone is looking forward to the games. Anybody you are talking to is looking forward to the match at the weekend.
“I know myself even you were dying for something to watch on the telly at the weekends. There was nothing on at all.
“I'm a big basketball fan so when the NBA came back you were delighted, you had your highlights the following day. You had everything, while for three months you had absolutely nothing going on. It is extremely important for people.”
In Crossmolina Ciaran McDonald’s influence in a splendid and durable Deel Rovers team mattered to Loftus as a youngster. “Definitely, no more than any of the others because that was a great Crossmolina team I got to watch growing up,” Loftus says.
“You'd pick up a lot of different bits and pieces off watching and playing with the likes of Peadar (Gardiner), watching Joe Keane, speaking to him. All of these guys are still around the club at the minute. It is great for me to locally have had those fellas to look up to.”
Current Mayo selector McDonald brings plenty to the green and red party. “From our point of view you are picking up little bits and pieces off him, all of the time,” Loftus admits.
“He is constantly communicating with you, telling you because he probably sees the game differently to the way most people see it. He is a step or two ahead of everybody else.
“You are trying to pick up bits or pieces off him, playing off the shoulder, looking further up the pitch as opposed to giving a short hand pass right beside you. It is great to have him around the place.
“It is something we would speak about - playing with a bit of freedom. That you just are going out there, using the skill set that you have.
“Mac has definitely helped bring that in too, no more than James (Horan) and Burkey (James Burke) too. They are all pushing us to the max of our skill set, to play with that freedom, that you can go out to express yourself playing football.” It is what Loftus continues to do.