Alan Dillon not one to walk away from a challenge
Despite the pain of seven All-Ireland final defeats during his career, the Mayo veteran remains unbowed
Mayo’s Alan Dillon: “There’s a good vibe in the camp and it’s been like that since we started back in January.” Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Dillon also makes for perfect subject material. At age 31 he’s now the most experienced member of the Mayo panel, which unfortunately for him means losing seven All-Ireland finals, between minor, under-21 and senior. No one was in a more familiar place when the final whistle blew in Croke Park last September, and Dillon looked up at the scoreboard: Dublin 2-12, Mayo 1-14.
He’d already lost two All-Ireland minor finals, back-to-back, in 1999 and 2000, then the All-Ireland Under-21 final, in 2001, before losing four All-Ireland senior finals – to Kerry, in ’04 and ’06, to Donegal, in ’12, and then last year, to Dublin.
The road opens up again on Sunday with their Connacht semi-final against Roscommon, and that means leaving last year, and every other All-Ireland defeat, far behind.
“To be honest, it’s something we have discussed in-house, left in-house, and don’t need to discuss with anyone else,” says Dillon. “It’s in the past now, and I’m not sure why we would go back and analyse again. The focus now is on ourselves, and Sunday.”
Yet Dillon doesn’t deny that the process of moving on doesn’t get any easier, especially after a run of All-Ireland defeats like he had.
“I’d agree with that,” he says. “But what can you do? You can’t turn the clock back. You can just say to yourself, ‘okay keep going . . .’ At some stage we will get that 70-minute winning performance. It starts next Sunday.
“Every step for us is in order to play at your maximum for 70 minutes. What we did in 2004 and 2006 is redundant now. The information from those past games will help us perform and play well, so if you want to look back that way, at what you did wrong, that is definitely something we will do, in training.
Dillon has extra reason to remain optimistic for the summer ahead. A groin injury curtailed his training for much of last summer, and while he did start in every championship game, scoring two points in All-Ireland semi-final win over then champions Donegal, he never once felt 100 per cent.
So last November he went under the knife at Gerry McEntee’s surgery in the Mater Private, and since then feels he’s got both his legs back.
“It was just the load, the quantity, the training we were doing with Mayo, is very intense,” says Dillon, in Dublin as a brand ambassador for Kinetica food supplements. “There was always that doubt that you could go past your normal threshold. I’m at a level now where I’m confident to say that I can train well and recover well.”
Perfect subjectGavin Duffy
Dillon is the perfect subject to assess that too, given he played alongside Duffy, as a Mayo minor, in 1999.
“In fairness, he was the powerhouse in the midfield department, and was way more developed than a lot of us at that stage, in 1999,” recalls Dillon.
“It’s great to have him back. His physical presence is something that we probably didn’t have bar Aidan and Seamie (O’Shea) in that middle third department.
“We probably need to see a bit more of where he’s most comfortable, so it’s up in the air if he features on Sunday. But he has every chance. I wouldn’t say he’s a manufactured footballer. He has natural ability. Lads would also bounce ideas off him, try and dissect what he was doing at the professional level, like how Ireland did in 2011 in the World Cup. How did they react to that and that type of stuff. It’s not a thing like he gives open presentations and that type of stuff. But he’s definitely an addition.”
Dillon’s own psychology behind football, meanwhile, remains unchanged.
“This is something I’ve done all my life. I wasn’t going to just throw the towel in last year, say I’m retiring, I’m finishing. It never crossed my mind. There’s another few years left in me. That’s the way I feel now. There’s a good vibe in the camp and it’s been like that since we started back in January.”
And for now that sounds like the perfect winning psychology.