Cillian O’Connor’s scoring return a real positive for Mayo from their London mauling
“There were a lot of unforced errors, a lot of mistakes, and we probably weren’t playing to the level that we can”
Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor celebrates scoring his side’s third goal against London in the Connacht SFC final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Winning a third successive Connacht football title for the first time in 63 years shouldn’t be about searching for the positives amongst the negatives – and should be about the other way round. But it’s what happens after Mayo effectively walked all over London, who were making their first Connacht final appearance ever.
Yet one of the few unmistakable positives of Mayo’s win was the half-time introduction of Cillian O’Connor. It wasn’t just that O’Connor scored a hat-trick of goals in an apparently championship record space of time, greatly improving Mayo’s scoring rate, even though they still shot 19 wides by the end, and claimed their 5-11 from a total of 37 scoring opportunities.
It’s more the fact that O’Connor’s season was still in doubt only a few weeks ago, after he re-damaged a shoulder injury in a club game: everything about the 35 minutes that he played on Sunday suggested that O’Connor has now fully recovered, and the player himself agreed as much.
“It’s always great to get back on the field after the injury lay-off,” said O’Connor. “It’s hard watching the boys train and play, and not being able to do anything. But I feel now that the shoulder is 100 per cent again. The medical team have been excellent. Martin McIntyre, Liam Moffatt, Dr and Sean Moffatt have been brilliant. They have me in great condition, and I feel as fit as ever and ready for the next round.”
Mayo, however, don’t yet know who they’ll be playing in that next round. The draw for the All-Ireland quarter-finals will take place on Saturday evening, after the fourth and final round of qualifiers, and there’s a chance Mayo might yet renew acquaintances with Galway. What is certain is that they can’t play London again, even if they do overcome Cavan in Croke Park, as no defeated provincial finalist, who emerges from round four of the qualifiers, can be drawn against the champions of their own province.
That also means Donegal can’t play again Monaghan in the quarter-final; what it does mean is that if Donegal beat Laois they will be drawn against Dublin, Kerry or Mayo. Although Mayo won’t potentially meet Dublin or Kerry until the All-Ireland final either, as the semi-final line-up this year is already decided as Mayo (or quarter-final winners) against Monaghan (or quarter-final winners) and Dublin (or quarter-final winners) against Kerry (or quarter-final winners).
All that remains to be seen, but what is certain is that Mayo manager James Horan was left with left plenty to ponder, including the question as to why his team weren’t more than seven points up at half-time, when O’Connor was introduced.
“No, he wasn’t overly pleased, I suppose,” agreed O’Connor. “There were a lot of unforced errors, a lot of mistakes, and we probably weren’t playing to the level that we can. So there were a couple of things we mentioned at half-time that we had to work on. Thankfully we improved slightly in the second half, but there’s still a lot of areas that we wouldn’t be happy with.
“But winning three Connacht titles is a nice plus. It’s a long time since it’s been done, and it’s something we mentioned that we wanted to do. And now that it’s been ticked, we want to get back to training next week, and the competition for places will still be there.”
What O’Connor is not so agreeable about is this notion that Mayo have yet to be properly tested going into their quarter-final the weekend after next, having win their three games in Connacht by a combined total of 42 points.
“Well, all those teams have posed challenges of their own. London’s physicality, and Galway and Roscommon were tests in their own way. But our training sessions over the last few weeks have been fairly interesting, and it’s going to go up another gear next week. There’s a certain element of tapering towards the last few days before the game. But some of the boys aren’t happy in the subs, and that’s what keeps us going.
“And of course you can’t write off any team in the championship. There’s still a big group of teams there who can beat anyone, so we won’t rule out anybody.”