John Maughan and Jack O’Connor get set to go head-to-head again

Alan Dillon looks back on the 2004 All-Ireland final and Mayo’s failure to stop the Kerry juggernaut

The world turns and in Portlaoise on Sunday, John Maughan and Jack O'Connor take opposite dugouts for the Offaly-Kildare Leinster championship quarter-final – just as they did for the 2004 All-Ireland final with their own counties, Mayo and Kerry.

That went decisively Kerry’s way and a year later at the quarter-final stage, they won less comprehensively but Maughan called it a day after his second stint in charge of Mayo. O’Connor would also serve two terms and finish with three All-Irelands, adding titles in 2006 and ’09.

Their relocation from other provinces follows slightly different patterns with Maughan having taken up Offaly last year in what completed a full set of provincial appointments for the well-travelled manager, previously with Clare, Fermanagh and Roscommon as well as Mayo.

O'Connor has family connections in Kildare, as his sons Cian and Éanna play with Moorefield and have been based in the county for the last six years and he has endured a fractured first year, as the intercounty season went into storage for most of 2020.


When he and Maughan met in the mid-2000s, they had teams on different trajectories. Kerry had endured a rough couple of years, losing to rising Ulster powers Tyrone and Armagh and under new management were determined to win back Sam Maguire.

Mayo, on the other hand, arrived as outsiders – little considered at the start of the year – but weren’t even the story of the year, as Fermanagh had reached a first All-Ireland semi-final, where Mayo struggled to get over them in a replay.

As on Sunday, Maughan was in his second year and O'Connor his first and both were rebuilding. Among Mayo's new intake was Alan Dillon, who would go on to have a long career with the county and win All Stars. He remembers what the Offaly manager brought to his career 16 and 17 years ago.

“A lot of us were new in 2003 and ’04 and John provided a great eye opener to what was required. A young player like me at the time couldn’t have had a better manager to instil the necessary attitudes for playing at the top level. He really helped me to transition from a club to a county footballer.

“Significantly, his Army background meant a real emphasis on hard work to build mental strength and resilience. We mightn’t have been a team of all the talents but we would be hard to beat. He was really good at developing that mentality – always stay in the game.

“The other side was that we didn’t in those days put as much emphasis on tactics and might have felt that we could outrun teams and that our work ethic and intensity would win games.”

That held up well until the final. For Mayo in those days, the clash with Galway was always the big target in the championship. The neighbours in those days were only a couple of years after winning a second All-Ireland but Maughan’s team took them down in a Connacht semi-final.

O’Connor was on his first round of duties with the Kerry seniors and their progress to the All-Ireland final had been uneventful apart from a replayed Munster final in which they nearly lost to Limerick, prevailing in extra time.

“We had a phenomenal year,” remembers Dillon. “Beating Galway was a highlight and then Roscommon in the Connacht final. We were an exciting, skilful team but Kerry were exceptional in 2004. They’d go on to reach seven All-Ireland finals in a row and you could see the quality they had was outstanding. They got away from us early and we never really caught fire.”

He remembers that the team’s build-up to the final gave them as good a shot as possible. Management included the experienced Liam McHale, a veteran of three finals as a player, two of them, 1996 and ’97, in Maughan’s first period in charge.

"We were in Kilashee Hotel, " says Dillon, "and Brian Cody came and spoke to us the night before. I do remember that it was my most enjoyable final. I scored 1-2 and didn't feel under any real pressure unlike in other finals [he played in another four plus the 2016 replay] when I piled expectation on myself and probably under-delivered."

Whereas the Kildare-Offaly tie will raise memories for him, Dillon has more pressing concerns with Mayo, striving for a first Connacht title since his own days in 2015, taking on provincial champions Roscommon.

“It’s a strange time of year but good to have it,” he says.

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times