Horan rules out O'Connor for the season
By John Harrington
Mayo manager James Horan says Cillian O’Connor’s season has been ended by the Achilles injury he sustained in the Allianz Football League Division 2 promotion play-off against Clare.
“He had a procedure on his Achilles so there'll be quite a bit of rehab with it,” said Horan. “Cillian is out for the foreseeable future. That will probably be the season.
“Yeah, it's a blow to Cillian obviously at a personal level. It is what it is. I suppose we're lucky in one way that we have a lot of players playing very well in training and as you know we have a lot of young players coming through so one of those are going to have to step up.
“We're looking forward to getting going and to seeing how it goes.”
In last year’s All-Ireland Championship O’Connor scored 5-40 of Mayo’s total score of 8-80, so they were hugely dependent on the Ballintubber star.
But despite his absence Horan is hopeful the other Mayo forwards at his disposal can fill the void.
“Absolutely,” said Horan. “As I said it's disappointing for Cillian for sure but it's by no means a disaster. Cillian would be the first that if someone else is injured, you know, who is going to be the guy that's going to push up or step up or take it on, he'd be the first on that.
“That's the way it is. At the higher level, the level we're trying to play at, it's an opportunity for someone who has been maybe knocking on the door to go in there now. What a great role model they had in the way Cillian plays the game that they can learn from that.
“I'd be confident in what we've seen from training since. We have a number of guys pushing incredibly hard. So yeah, from every crisis comes opportunity or whatever.”
O’Connor’s deadly accurate free-taking has been a really important weapon for Mayo in recent years and Horan says a decision has yet to be made on who will take over those duties in his absence.
“The team hasn't been picked yet but if you look through the players we have, you know, we have Paul Towey who came on in Clare and for the U-20s for a number of years was a very good free-taker.
“Ryan O'Donoghue is a very good free-taker, Conor Loftus last year took frees for us as well, Jason Doherty was a free-taker as well, Darren Coen, so we have a lot of guys who are very high level free-takers. We'll see how things play out for team selection and take it from there.”
Cillian O’Connor might be gone for the season, but his brother Diarmuid is one of a number of Mayo players who have been nursing injuries lately and have made sufficient recoveries to be in the frame for selection against Sligo in this Saturday’s Connacht SFC quarter-final.
“Diarmuid came off in the Clare game and is pushing well, he's very close. Jason Doc (Doherty), training very well with us, so pushing very hard as well. Brendan Harrison, again pushing very hard, he has a couple of games with his club under his belt.
“They're some of the longer term...the last two are some of the longer term injuries we've had. So we have a pretty good group to pick from.
“The selection we have I'd be happy with. Obviously you'd love 100% selection but our medical are doing a fantastic job under crazy conditions in one way when you think about what they're going through to keep players (fit) in such a short season. So happy from that side.”
A Mayo team already in a period of transition last year has introduced some more young players this year to fill the void left by the retirement of great servants like Keith Higgins, Chris Barrett, Seamie O’Shea, Donal Vaughan, Tom Parsons and David Clarke.
Horan has been delighted by how the new generation of players has quickly adapted to the challenge of playing at the highest level.
“I think we've huge development of a number of young players in a very quick time so delighted with that," he said.
“When the players came in they very quickly picked it up. And they had the experienced guys there, particularly last year, that showed them the ropes.
“I think it was brilliant by the older guys, how they did mentor I suppose the younger guys that came in and passed on their knowledge and experience and really made them feel welcome.
“That was great to see and definitely speeded up their development. We got a great kick off that particularly last year. Some of the guys that came in last year that didn't necessarily play are really pushing hard this year so delighted from that aspect, with the amount of options we have.
“That's very good. I think there was a natural sort of process that happened with the guys that retired in obviously December and January of this year.
“Brilliant servants that had given a huge amount of their time and life to Mayo GAA and were brilliant right up to the end. Amazing guys really so, yeah, the team goes on, life goes on.
“As I said at the beginning, we're very happy with where we are, how things are progressing. We're a little rough around the edges on some things but definitely trying to get better on those. Yeah, we're excited about the season ahead.”