Cillian O'Connor looking forward to knock-out football: 'One slip up and you could be out of the Championship'

O’Connor explains James Horan and the team’s medical staff have been regimental regarding protocols. 
Cillian O'Connor looking forward to knock-out football: 'One slip up and you could be out of the Championship'

Cillian O'Connor kicks a free during the Allianz Football League Division 1 Round 6 match between Galway and Mayo at Tuam Stadium. Picture: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor admits the county’s intense schedule means they have more reason to be extra diligent in adhering to Covid-19 guidelines.

A close contact must restrict their movements for 14 days irrespective of returning a negative test, which could have significant repercussions for Mayo’s players given they are hoping this weekend’s Connacht SFC quarter-final against Leitrim will be the third of five games in 28 days.

O’Connor explains James Horan and the team’s medical staff have been regimental regarding protocols. 

“It's being taken very seriously. I think as players we were probably struck by that at the very beginning. Like everybody we were getting used to the idea of wearing masks inside the ground, carrying our own boxes of bibs and water bottles and our own gear at every session, being in segregated dressing rooms and having the same four players in the room for less than 10 minutes. All that kind of stuff was so new to us.

“I think we saw how serious the management and the backroom team were taking it. Our doctor (Seán Moffatt) sits on the Covid advisory committee so the first session was strange how stringent the measures were but the lads adapted very quickly because we've teachers and we've social workers and we've people in the frontline in the squad so there were no risks being taken.

“One slip up and one mistake and suddenly you could be out of the Championship. I know Public Health is enough of a motivation, to be honest, but in the back of your mind you also know all this training is for nothing if we don't take this seriously.”

Pulling on the green and red, Mayo’s record scorer O’Connor knows he’s in an enviable position most years but this one in particular given he can go out and compete in Carrick-on-Shannon this Sunday.

“If there's something that the last few weeks and months have kind of shown us is that we probably take the buzz for granted at times because there's always another game, at least you feel that way.

Then when it's pulled away from you, you do have a bit of withdrawal symptoms.

“I need that bit of rush, that bit of pressure, I want that expectation on me. So it's helped us I think to appreciate that, you mention adrenaline, there's not many people who'll get that this weekend and we're one of the lucky few so above all else before winning and losing comes into it.

"We get to put on a jersey, know that there's hundreds of thousands around the world listening or watching, waiting and expecting, and you get to be one of the guys in the arena. That's a buzz, yeah.”

A slight quad concern ruled O’Connor out of last Sunday’s Division 1 final round defeat to Tyrone. He will be fit for this knock-out encounter, though, and agrees Mayo have performed better when there is no safety net.

“Yeah, there is definitely an element of that over the few years where we've had our backs to the wall and we've had to pull something out, often because of our own doing, really. There's probably been a bit too many do-or-die games early in the summer for our liking.

“We'd have no fear of the knockout championship, we've had to live on the edge there a few times over the years. You do learn to enjoy that in a weird way. You get the butterflies a bit more maybe the day before and you know the consequence of defeat here is lights out.”

A Connacht SFC being run off in the space of three weekends is surreal for O’Connor when he has participated in provincial championships that have lasted 11 weeks. What would be his preferred duration for the competition?

“I'd say it's probably closer to three than 11. I guess if I was to pick a number, having maybe one or two weeks across the whole championship would be ideal. The 11-week one, you might win a game and if you've played really well individually or as a team, you're back to training on Tuesday and you're thinking, 'I've four weeks to wait now until you get a crack at the next team'.

“I'd definitely prefer, maybe not week on week but if you can play three or four championship games in Connacht over six weeks, I think that's what people want.”

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