Making the small improvements to get over the line

GAA: All Ireland SFC Final - Interview

Improving all the time: Diarmuid O'Connor is ready to complete a full set of All Ireland medals this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Improving all the time: Diarmuid O'Connor is ready to complete a full set of All Ireland medals this weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

He's only 22 years old and already has a final personal collection of honours in the game; All Ireland winners' medals at minor and u21 level, two national young player of the year awards and a collection of club medals in his back pocket. But the one that drives him and other players on is still there to be won. Hopefully, by Sunday evening that collection will be complete for Diarmuid O'Connor.

One thing for sure come Sunday is that O'Connor will be doing his best in front of a full throated and passionate Mayo crowd in Croke Park. The Mayo support for this team has been unwavering in recent years and it's something that O'Connor acknowledges is a big boost to the side. "It's unbelievable, the Mayo supporters are unreal, everyone in the country knows that by now. They have been through it all, the good times and the bad and had the backing of the team, they have always been there for the players and give a huge boost. It could be an FBD League game in MacHale Park or an All Ireland final. Most of them have been there a lot longer than I have and we've been doing it for them."

Getting over the line on Sunday will be the culmination of a long road that Mayo have travelled this year. While their performance against Kerry was one of the best ones put in by the team in recent years, there is still plenty of room for individual and team improvements ahead of Sunday, according to the Ballintubber man. "I think there are always areas that might be cliched but you can never have a perfect performance, and this year more than any year there has been a lot of ups and downs and a lot of areas that we can improve on. But as I said, the replay against Kerry was no different, it was a great performance, but there is still a lot of areas to improve on. I don't think any player can put their hand up and say, yeah no that was perfect, I can't do any better than that. All of us will be looking individually and tactically what we can improve on to help the team."

Looking back on his own performance on video is something that O'Connor does to try and find the few little bits of improvement. "I'd watch it back once, each player is different, some might not watch it back and some players two or three times, I think everyone is different. I think you know yourself what worked for you and what didn't work for you and I suppose, every game this year - no more than the team - my own performances has mirrored the team in not being as consistent as I would have liked, but each game at time, pick out the two or three things and just work on them for the week."

The game has seen a lot of focus put on individual stats and kilometres run during games, but it's something that O'Connor isn't that focused on as an individual. "I don't really look at the GPS stats or ask for them back. That's a thing I put on before the games and training, it doesn't bother me too much — it's not going to win the games. Some players get more into it than others, but I don't focus on it too much. You could clock up 20k and have a bad game and clock up two or three and score 1-4 and be man-of-the-match. I don't get too bogged down after the game, you know yourself what worked and what didn't and how well you played and what you need to improve on, so I wouldn't get too bogged down in it."

The frantic nature of Mayo's run to the final since they exited the Connacht championship is something that has allowed Mayo to not over-think things too much, which is a good thing, the Ballintubber man thinks. "Yeah, the Galway game was very disappointing, for some reason we didn't reach peak performance and there has been a lot of games like that since then. In fairness to Galway, they put up a great performance and came out the right side. Since then there have still been downs, it hasn't just been all going up. The Clare game was a slow start and we were very disappointed by it, and the Cork game the way we let them back into the game, that was another disappointing one. But every game we have just tried to take out what we can and need to improve on, and it's been nearly a good thing the games had been coming thick and fast that we didn't have time to over-think the games and just pick out the one or two things you need to improve on and work on them for the next game."

The build-up to an All Ireland final can be seen as being a very pressurised time for players, but the final year PE and maths DCU student doesn't let it bother him and looks at it as just another game to get ready for. "In fairness, myself and Cillian, we wouldn't get distracted too much by the tickets and stuff, we'd leave that to Dad and he'll deal with that. It's not going to help our performance on the day. To be honest it's not much different from any of the other games, whether it's a league game or an All Ireland final, it's all the same. The lads around me and family and friends, they all know the craic at this stage and nothing is too much different from another game.

"I'm not going to lock myself in the room for three weeks because it's an All Ireland final. If someone stops and talks about the game for a few minutes it's not going to affect my game, I don't mind doing it, it's the same any other league game. Any chance I get I like to go down and watch the club lads, be it the senior or the clubs minors or u16. But I suppose this year more than most we've been very busy with training and games, I haven't got down as much as I would have liked."

As for the nerves ahead of such a big game, it's good to have nerves he thinks. "I do [get nervous] a small bit, if you're not nervous before a game, I'd say there is something wrong. A small bit of nerves is a good thing if you control them in the right way and fuel them the right way." Come Sunday evening, O'Connor will be hoping to complete a memorable hat-trick of All Ireland titles in the space of four years and finally bringing to an end Mayo's long wait for All Ireland glory.

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