Anytime over the past few years that I have met or spoken to Cillian O’ Connor, I have found him to be in the vernacular of my home place, Belclare, which is a half-parish of Corofin, to be 100 per cent “spot-on”.
Or alternatively he might be described as “sound as a bell” or “sound as a pound” by a few of the older generation. Last year he was in the Salthill Hotel in Galway for media interviews prior to the Connacht final and he could not have been more accommodating or decent in his dealings with any of the media people in attendance. His desire for a senior All-Ireland medal was as obvious that day as it was with his last possession last Sunday afternoon in the theatre of dreams.
A quality choice as captain
Stephen Rochford knows people. He reads them well. He and and his management team knew what they were doing and they chose wisely when they picked the 24-year-old Ballintubber man to be their on-field leader and team captain.
Cillian is a top-class team player with the right attitude and the self-belief that other Mayo players look up to. The moral courage he showed in taking on Mayo’s last chance to equalise the game last Sunday was a joy to watch.
Was there another Mayo player who would have scored that point? In fact, there are few other players in the entire country who would have backed themselves to nail that chance 76 minutes into an All-Ireland final.
The pressure on him with that kick was immense, and the way O’Connor took it on and walloped it over the bar with such conviction gives you a belief that Mayo can win the replay. If two or three other Mayo players from midfield up can just take inspiration from that effort, that self-belief, that composure, and replicate it on Saturday week, then Dublin can be beaten.
Imagine if Aidan O’ Shea went out in the replay and notched two or three points or rattled a goal in past Cluxton. Visualise the reaction it would have on his teammates, and on the Dublin players. Cillian’s younger brother Diarmuid did not seem to be firing on all cylinders last weekend and he seems to be struggling a bit with injury compared to how he was motoring last year and earlier in the qualifiers against Kildare.
Mayo were very very close last Sunday to finally slaying the 65-year ‘hoo-doo’ and based on that display it just needs a few other players in their camp to ramp up their performances a few notches and Dublin will be in serious trouble.
A good few Dubs looked very tired physically in the last 10 minutes last weekend. After winning three All-Ireland titles since 2011, and four consecutive league crowns, perhaps their hunger has been sated a little, which provides an opportunity for Rochford’s men to exploit. It was admirable the way that Mayo came back from three points down in injury time to draw the game. They were five down at half-time too and came out and tore into the game with four rapid quick scores from Andy Moran, young Durcan and two in a row from their captain, who added another seven or eight minutes later.
That kind of response was hugely impressive and if it could be sustained for a longer period in the replay there is no reason why they cannot be crowned champions.
What was Connolly thinking?
The most bizarre decision of the entire game for me was the one taken by Diarmuid Connolly in the dying minutes of the game. I was doing analysis with Kilare’s Johnny Doyle and Eamon O’Hara on Radio One at the game and we all just shook our heads in total and utter disbelief as Connolly argued with Ciarán Kilkenny as to who should take the kick.
Dublin were leading by a single score and all they had to do was keep possession, give a pass or two and run down the clock and they would have been All-Ireland champions and there was nothing Mayo could have done about it. It was a baffling decision by the St Vincent’s man and one that could yet cost his team a fourth All-Ireland success in six years.
The only reason I can come up with to as to why Connolly went for such an audacious and speculative shot instead of taking the logical and smart option was that Lee Keegan had gotten inside his head and he wanted to show the Westport man who was top dog.
Dublin Jim Gavin always talks about sticking with the process, however Connolly went well off the page with that nutty decision.
Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor in action during last weekend’s All-Ireland football final between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin Photo: Piaras O Midheach/Sportsfile