Cillian O’Connor: ‘I’m not motivated by beating Dublin’
Mayo captain’s priority is to regain momentum with James Horan back in charge
Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor in action against Kildare at Newbridge last June. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Almost seven months since he last pulled on a Mayo jersey and Cillian O’Connor is beaming. A fresh league beckons, James Horan back in charge, and the chance to stop Dublin from making football championship history.
Actually, O’Connor isn’t getting that far ahead of himself: recent knee surgery means the Mayo captain won’t start their opening league game against Roscommon on Saturday week, and the last thing motivating him right now is ending Dublin’s quest for that five-in-a-row.
Speaking at the launch of Eir Sport coverage of the Allianz Leagues – 15 live games in all including that opener against Roscommon in Castlebar – O’Connor admits that Mayo’s immediate priority, and his own, is to regain some momentum following that early championship defeat to Kildare last June – the battle of Newbridge or Nowhere.
“Even for this launch, just putting on this jersey felt good,” he says. “It was June 29th that we were out, which seems a lifetime ago now, so once it got going again with the trials and all of that, boys were just mad to get the boots on again and get going.
I’m hoping to be back on the field in the next couple of weeks. And then, depending on how it reacts to that first bit of training, that will determine when I’m back playing matches
“Even then, the league seemed so far away, so it is great that it’s finally here. And I expect there will be a bit of freshness or whatever to come with meeting up again and really starting to plot again on ways to improve after such a long lay-off.”
O’Connor has been laying off the training since his club Ballintubber lost the Connacht final to champions Corofin in late November, after which he underwent knee surgery. “A bit of wear and tear underneath my kneecap,” he explains. “It was causing me a lot of pain to play on it. It just needed to be cleared up. It was keyhole surgery, so it wasn’t that invasive. I was back on my feet in a few days. It’s been good since. I think it’s just a bit of wear and tear and a bit of running mechanics as well – I was putting a lot of force through that part of knee because of the way I run.
“I’m hoping to be back on the field in the next couple of weeks. And then, depending on how it reacts to that first bit of training, that will determine when I’m back playing matches. Hopefully, training in the next few weeks. It’s just something I had to get tidied up. And I’ve been fairly fortunate [with injuries]. I know I’ve had bits and pieces here and there. I’ve had a shoulder and the other knee but I’ve been lucky enough, I’ve never had any breaks or cracks or tears.”
Horan’s second coming as Mayo manager, for four years, clearly excites him. Horan held the position before from 2011-14, guiding Mayo to back-to-back All-Ireland defeats and also four successive Connacht titles, and took over from Stephen Rochford, who stepped out in September after failing to agree terms of his reappointment with the county board.
“His name was doing the rounds along with one or two others. And it dragged on a small bit, but it always seemed more and more likely that it was going to be him. It’s hard to gauge yet because there has only been two competitive games and I unfortunately haven’t been involved. He’s always looking for different stuff. I’d be sure it’s not going to be a case of that it’s going to be a more mature and experienced version of him, that’s all I know for sure. How that manifests I don’t know yet, but I think it’ll be different.”
Mayo’s early exit meant that for the first time since joining the Mayo senior panel, in 2011, the now 26-year-old O’Connor got to enjoy a “normal” summer. He took in a World Cup game in Russia, between England and Columbia, and also holidayed in Bali with friends. Looking deeper into 2019, and despite Mayo being the last team to properly push Dublin to their limit, O’Connor insists their five-in-a-row ambitions will have no bearing on him.
I think if we look at ourselves first, and see can we max ourselves out here, for each other, and the management, and the supporters, that will be the big drive
“I’m not going to speak for everybody on our team, or other teams, but for myself that wouldn’t be up on the list of motivations. I’m not motivated by beating Dublin. I don’t think, given how our season ended, we’re even thinking that far. We just need some stability, get a good start, a good base in training, and get as good a start in the league as possible.
“I don’t like motivating myself through negative things, ruining his year, or stopping this record. I think if we look at ourselves first, and see can we max ourselves out here, for each other, and the management, and the supporters, that will be the big drive. I’m sure Dublin have their own motivations. Kerry, Cork, Tyrone, whoever. It wouldn’t be a huge thing.”