MAYO STAR CILIAN O’CONNOR remains “optimistic” about the fitness of captain Aidan O’Shea after a knee concern saw him depart their first collective training session last week.
Cillian O’Connor was speaking as Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps return for Summer 2021 and Kellogg celebrates its 10th year of sponsorship.
It emerged yesterday that O’Shea’s injury is not as serious as first feared and a scan showed the Breaffy man didn’t sustain ligament damage to the knee.
“I’ve not heard anything for definite now yet,” O’Connor said at the 2021 Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps launch before the positive news was reported yesterday. “Still optimistic that he’ll be alright.
“It was just a kind of a contact injury as opposed to a muscle or a soft tissue, so not really one that can be avoided. Just a bit of chance. I think he has to wait for a second reading on a scan or something before he’ll know for sure.
“Still hopeful that it won’t be anything too serious.”
Two of the more experienced members of the Mayo squad now after a raft of retirements in January, O’Connor went on to outline O’Shea’s importance.
His leadership qualities and presence alone, on and off the field, have been crucial for the Westerners through the years.
“He’s been huge,” two-time All-Star O’Connor said. “He hasn’t missed a game really as much as I can remember, in 10 or 11 years. Behind the scenes, he’s barely missed a training session in the same time.
He’s just a real good standard-setter around the place, and would be one of the best trainers consistently in the group. That’s probably the best benefit we get.
“Every now and again we have a game and the country sees a performance but all the while, behind the cloak, he’s driving things on in training for six, seven, eight, 10 sessions between games and that’s really where the big value is in him for us. I’m looking forward to knocking off him and all the lads in training in the next few weeks.”
The return to collective inter-county training has gone well otherwise, everyone thankful to have some certainty, leaving Zoom sessions and the “less is more” individual approach in the past.
The competition is welcome once again, O’Connor laughs, WhatsApp rumours of who’s motoring well and Strava time-doctoring put to bed, with no hiding in the runs.
“It’s great, that bit of craic back in a group, it’s hard to beat,” he grins.
“You’re a bit anxious, you’re looking forward to it and then you’re a little bit nervous for the first few sessions. You want to come through the first few sessions okay and give a good showing of yourself and all that.
“It was a great sense of excitement. It was, not a new appreciation, but a little reminder of how enjoyable it is when you just sit back and take a minute. Buzzing to be back on the pitch, knocking a ball around. The weather the last few days is an added bonus.”
O’Connor with Aidan O’Shea.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
There’s absolutely no concern that Dublin and Monaghan have any advantages over other teams after their Covid-19 training breaches, with Mayo ”very much inward focused.”
Morale is high in the camp after December’s All-Ireland final defeat at the hands of the Sky Blues — Dessie Farrell’s side were 2-14 to 0-15 winners en route to six-in-a-row — with new faces keen to get back on the horse and go again, their unwavering energy infectious as James Horan’s men look to the future.
That said, dealing with the decider defeat — O’Connor accepts it: “You need to tick every single box and cover every angle. We didn’t do enough”– was different, with everything going on off the pitch and the timing.
Christmas came in place of the usual return to club football.
“If you had a club game the following week, your mind would have been taken off it very quickly,” the Ballintubber man agrees. “To be honest, it wasn’t any harder because the end of the year was coming, we were getting to spend some time with the family.
“Everyone is different, but I was able to park it quite quickly, analyse it, take what I could from it and move on. I guess the fact that we were moving into 2021 straight after it, it almost felt like a line had been drawn in the sand at the turn of the year.
Then when you’re talking to those younger players, all they want is ‘When are we back?’, ‘When are we going to be working on this?’, ‘Who are these guys who have been brought into the panel?’, ‘Is that guy retiring?’, ‘Is this guy in?’ The conversations were about the 2021 season very quickly. It wasn’t hard.”
The turn of the year brought a spate of retirements, as David Clarke, Chris Barrett, Seamie O’Shea, Keith Higgins, Tom Parsons and Donal Vaughan all called time on their respective inter-county careers.
O’Connor didn’t know the mass exodus was coming, but wasn’t surprised.
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Their departures are all felt, but it hasn’t had a negative impact on the group. It certainly doesn’t feel like the end of an era, he stresses.
You would have had an idea of different players who were considering it or were at that stage of their lives. In one sense, it was the end of a couple of players’ careers who have been great friends and great role models for young people in the county and great servants to the jersey.
“Obviously, it’s sad when you see them move on. But I wouldn’t say it was the end of an era really because in the previous season, we probably would have been very conscious of all the young players that have come in and added to the team, and nailed down places.
of the team
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“There’s a couple of players for example there that were nominated for Young Player of the Year, Oisin [Mullen], Tommy [Conroy], and Eoghan [McLaughlin] amongst others. So, I suppose, there was a bit of both. There was a tinge of sadness with the lads moving on, but, at the same time, there was also a bit of regeneration and a sense of new life about the team when the guys were coming in.”
O’Connor at the launch in Croke Park.
That excitement is evident, with the countdown to the beginning of the Division 2 league campaign on the weekend of 15/16 May underway, the reigning Connacht champions in a group with Meath, Down and Westmeath.
They haven’t discussed it too much yet, but the goal is to win all of their games and bounce back accordingly, settling as a unit with competition for jerseys higher than ever.
O’Connor comes into the new season off the back of a high-scoring individual one last year, “quite pleased” with his showing and “just delighted to get a clean run at it” after recent injuries.
While there’s always room for improvement, he’s hopeful for more of the same this year, 10 years after he made his championship debut in 2011.
“I’m the same as every other player in the group, to be honest,” he concludes. “It’s a clean slate every year, really. To be fair to the management, they’ve been fairly consistent in their message and their actions on this. It’s whoever is playing well, virtually, week to week, is going to get playing. That’s been true throughout the last few years.
“I mentioned a little bit of nerves going back training, I would have had those same nerves as everyone else, thinking, ‘If I start the year slowly here and don’t play early on, and someone does put up a good performance, you’re in a bit of a hole then and you’re chasing it.’
“Like the rest of the forwards, I’m looking to hit the ground running and try and grab a jersey and hold onto it. That’s been my mindset all the time, and it hasn’t changed.”
Mayo GAA star, Cillian O’Connor was speaking at the launch of the 2021 Kellogg’s GAA Cúl Camps as Kellogg celebrates the 10th year of the sponsorship. For more information and to book now, visit www.gaa.ie/kelloggsculcamps