Mayo’s 2019 captain Diarmuid O’Connor has described the county’s winter controversies as “background noise” for the players.
The squad steered clear of an ugly stand-off between the county board executive and the international supporter’s foundation, which rumbled on for months before a resolution was found in December.
“Obviously, it is disappointing,” said O’Connor of the stand-off. “You never want to see your county in the media for the wrong reasons.
“It was disappointing to see and hear about it, but I don’t think it was an issue for the players. Most of us were too busy with our club championship or were away having a break. We were staying out of it. I don’t even know the ins and outs of it myself, and am not too bothered.
“We were busy doing other things. I was with the club (Ballintubber), we had a long year. That was just background noise. You had people coming up and asking you about what was going on, but I just told them the truth, which was that I just didn’t know much about it.”
New Mayo chairman Liam Moffatt is no stranger to O’Connor, given his former role as a physiotherapist with the county side.
O’Connor has huge confidence in the new man, saying: “He will be good in that role, he is a good man and has some big ideas. I am sure he will do a great job, it is up to us as players to focus on our own job and get our own job done first. And we are just looking forward to the year.”
Last spring, Mayo belied their awkward early-season split-squad training arrangement to claim a Division 1 title.
Although there are fewer members of the squad living and studying in Dublin this year, O’Connor knows the separation has its drawbacks.
It’s not ideal having a bunch of the squad in Dublin with college and work. But we had big numbers in training because we were training with the U20s as well. The standards weren’t dropping — we were driving the standards. But the lads (who are travelling) seem to be managing it well.
After a stint in the capital, O’Connor is now back in Mayo, teaching physical education and maths in Castlebar’s St Gerald’s College.
“I did like the idea of coming home eventually — I mightn’t have come home as soon as I did, but obviously football played a factor,” he said.
The 25-year-old’s 2019 championship was riddled with injuries. After fracturing an eye socket in May, he then broke his wrist the following month. Both occurred in training and, along with other injuries, the lay-offs prompted local criticism of Mayo’s preparations.
Going back to his U21 days, O’Connor’s game has always been all-action, but he sees no reason to change his style.
“I don’t think I have to alter the way I play,” he said. “Off the field, I look after myself a bit more and improve in any small way I can. There are plenty of lads who do as much running, if not more than I do, and stay injury-free.
“There was nothing I could have done that would have prevented the fractured eye socket and fractured wrist last year. It’s just that when you get a little muscle injury or nick you’re always wondering: ‘Could I have done more beforehand?’
"It’ll be something I’ll be focusing more on this year, looking after myself more off the pitch.”
Mayo head to Ballybofey on Saturday where Donegal’s record, but for a Super 8 defeat to Tyrone in 2018, a couple of years ago is excellent.
The same can’t be said for Mayo in Castlebar, as much as they defeated Declan Bonner’s side there in the championship last year.
Elverys MacHale Park, particularly against Galway and Dublin, has provided no cover for them in recent years.
“It has been up and down,” says O’Connor of Mayo’s home record.
That’s definitely an area we’ll be looking to improve. It was a big performance by the lads against Donegal in what was a knock-out game. We’ll just be looking to building on that.
“As players, we treat every game the same whether it’s home or away. We’ve won a couple of games there, but our performances haven’t been consistent enough.
"We’ll be looking to change that this year no matter what game we’re playing in.”