Stephen Coen of Mayo at the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Launch at Clare Lake in Claremorris, Mayo.
Stephen Coen of Mayo at the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Launch at Clare Lake in Claremorris, Mayo.

Stephen Coen speaks about talisman Cillian O'Connor and his impact on Mayo panel despite injury

By Paul Keane

You may have figured when the news broke last month that Cillian O'Connor would miss the Championship that the Mayo attack would be the poorer for it.

It was only last December that the prolific forward scored a quite incredible 4-9 against Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-finals.

Months later, Mayo find themselves back at that same stage of the 2021 Championship, preparing to face Dublin on Saturday week, and while they're without O'Connor, sidelined with Achilles trouble, they've still scored more than any other team.

The way Mayo's Stephen Coen sees it, necessity was the mother of invention with others simply stepping up in O'Connor's absence, helping to rack up 3-23, 5-20 and 2-14 tallies during their successful Connacht campaign.

"If you were to ask Cillian, even if he was playing and someone else was injured, he'd say someone's loss is someone else's gain," said Coen. "The depth of our squad has been shown in the last three or four games and we just need to move on regardless of who we lose or what happens throughout the season.

"There's a lot of ambitious guys in the group, it's a very competitive group and we just keep pushing each other along the way. There's plenty of competition in the forward line for places and that's supported by our defence and our attack as well.

"We just need to keep sticking to the system and to the game plan and regardless of who is in or out, we just keep ploughing on."

Talisman O'Connor may be out of the team but he remains a key part of the group.

"Ah he's been super, brilliant," said Coen. "Everything he can do he has been doing, sharing nuggets of information with everyone, as he always does whether he's playing or not. He's a real leader, a guy of the highest integrity so he's always going to contribute to the group regardless of whether he's playing or not. That doesn't change."

At the other end of the pitch, Mayo's defence held Galway scoreless in the third quarter of the Connacht final at Croke Park and scoreless from play in the entire second-half. Just the sort of form to take into a winner takes all tie with Dublin.

"It just shows that the team defence is very good from number 15 back," said the Hollymount Carramore man. "It's something we're trying to work on, that as well as going forward we're just trying to be solid in defence. So yeah, it was an enjoyable 35 minutes. We were pretty strong defensively, worked hard together but, again, it's just trying to improve on that now as much as possible."

Facing Dublin all over again at Croke Park could bring back some bad memories for Mayo, principally the four All-Ireland final defeats to the Leinster champions that they've experienced there in the last decade.

It may also be significant that since last December's final defeat they have finally won Championship silverware at Croke Park in the form of the Nestor Cup.

"Not really," responded Coen, "it's just nice to win games at Croke Park and to get used to that. It's not really an issue, just nice to win the Nestor Cup. It's good to get another game in Croke Park now, more experience for the lads who maybe hadn't played there already in the Championship. Just good to get those 70 minutes into the lads."