There were few scenes more pleasing to the eye for Mayo supporters during Sunday’s Connacht final than that of Cillian O’Connor scoring a hat-trick of goals and popping over frees with his customary aplomb.
Even more reassuring were the words he uttered after his return to competitive football, having suffered a second dislocation in six months to his left shoulder playing with his club, Ballintubber, last month.
“It’s great to get back on the field after the injury lay-off,” said the two-time Young Footballer of the Year.
“It’s hard watching the boys train and play and not being able to do anything. So, thankfully they had a lot of work done when I came on. Andy [Moran] and Dillo [Alan Dillon] and Mickser [Michael Conroy] did well and they laid on the scores for me.”
O’Connor’s focus at the start of the month was on making it back for a potential All-Ireland quarter-final so he is considerably ahead of schedule and confirmed he is already operating at 100% capacity as the county shifts focus to Croke Park.
“Yeah, I feel like that,” he said after his 35-minute stint. “The medical team have been excellent. Martin McIntyre, Liam Moffatt, Dr Sean Moffatt have been brilliant. They have me in great condition. I feel as fit as ever and ready for the next round.”
So, fitness and form appear to be in order, but Mayo cannot escape the suspicion they will report for duty in Croke Park on the August Bank Holiday weekend with nothing in the way of a true test behind them.
Dublin have found such a leisurely provincial stroll to be far from the ideal for a side bent on All-Ireland glory in times past, and they never blitzed sides in the consistent manner Mayo have Galway, Roscommon and London.
“Well, it is going to be tough, but those teams have posed challenges of their own,” said O’Connor. “London’s physicality and both Galway and Roscommon were tests in their own way. Our training sessions over the last few weeks have been fairly interesting and it’s going to go up another gear this week but there’s a certain element of tapering towards the last few days before the game.
“The last few weeks we’ve been pushing each other hard. The likes of ‘Bird’ [Barry] Moran, [Enda] Varley and Mickey C [Conroy] are to come back into it, so it’s going to be interesting. Those boys aren’t happy in the subs. That’s what keeps us going.”
So too will a performance against London that fell somewhat below expectations, stained by 19 wides and the realisation that a more clinical side would have taken at least one of the many goal chances the Exiles created.
James Horan admitted as much afterwards and O’Connor wasn’t imparting any trade secrets when he revealed the Mayo manager had a tasty selection of words for their delectation at half-time.
“Thankfully we improved slightly in the second half,” said the forward, “but there’s still a lot of areas that we wouldn’t be happy with.”
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