Mayo manager Stephen Rochford says Cillian O’Connor’s natural leadership skills meant he was always destined to skipper his county.
O’Connor was this week named as captain to replace Keith Higgins and will lead the team for the first time when Rochford’s troops take on London in Ruislip in their Connacht championship quarter-final on Sunday fortnight.
The Ballintubber player, who only turns 24 tomorrow, will hope to be the man to lead Mayo to their first All-Ireland senior title since 1951, and Rochford says he is one of the squad real rocks.
“He’s very much a leader and a guy that commands a lot of respect in the group and I have lot of time for the behaviour he exudes to the group.
“The last number of years he has been in position to deliver day in and day out. For people that know him close up they would have expected him to be captain material and 2016 is his year,” said Rochford.
O’Connor only featured in the latter stages of Mayo’s Division 1 campaign, and took his seasonal bow in their victory over Roscommon at Hyde Park.
But the former All-Ireland club-winning manager with Corofin, says he has no worries about O’Connor’s fitness after the attacker came through the rigours of club and county action in recent weeks.
“The medics are happy and if they are I’m happy. He has done a lot of work with a top-class strength and conditioning team and he’s been back for maybe five weeks.
“He has played a number of club games and challenge games so I have no worries about that.”
Aside from O’Connor, Rochford has reported a clean bill of health ahead of their trip to London, but says he is keeping his fingers crossed that his squad of 33 players comes through next weekend’s club championship unscathed.
“Well we are still two-and-a-half weeks before London. We have made a couple of changes to what we were carrying for the league, so we are at about 33 players now, with no substantial injuries.
“We have a couple of bumps and bangs, but guys are playing club championship this weekend and we could have an A&E ward again on Tuesday night, but hopefully not.
“After that players are back to their clubs now this week for the remainder of the week so we’ll see them next Tuesday night, so we are down to four sessions before we head for London. That’s tightening in.”
Confidence in the squad has increased hugely in the last month or so after the team clinched their top flight status for 2017, while the county’s U21 team also won their first U21 title in 10 years.
Rochford has called upon five of that U21 squad to join up with the seniors with Brian Reape the newest face, along with Diarmuid O’Connor, Conor Loftus, Michael Hall, and Stephen Coen.
The manager says he is not in a rush to fast-track more of Mike Solan’s team into the set-up.
“We have to be mindful to remember that these guys are 19, 20 and 21 years of age. I think we all have a responsibility within the county of managing that level of expectation with that group.
“I think there was a number of guys that had made their debuts for Mayo that was on the previous All-Ireland U21 winning team and a number of those guys that weren’t seniors at that time, it took them three or four years.
“Ger Cafferkey, Chris Barrett, all those guys are now stalwarts on the Mayo senior team. They didn’t play in the year they won the All-Ireland: It was a couple of years.
“I think we have to be mindful of managing that correctly and properly. Half that team are underage again next year.
“Whether we will (call the up), we may or may not, there is no decision made. Whether we bring in one or two or decide to go with fellas over the age of 21, there is no hard and fast rule on it.”
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