It was a frustrating start to the year for two-time All Star Alan Dillon, he had been sidelined by injury since the All Ireland final last year and his return to action was stop-start until his late inclusion in the starting line up in Pearse Stadium against Galway in May. It was a long hard road to recovery, but he hasn’t looked back since. “It was a rough national league and spring, but since the Galway game, I’ve got a lot of individual and group sessions in along with a couple of club championship games, it’s full steam ahead for the past few weeks.” Dillon, who made his championship debut ten seasons ago back in 2003, has been to three All Ireland senior finals, picked up two All Stars and five Connacht senior medals in his decorated senior career so far, but he is had to slow the pace down this year to ensure he is in top shape. “It’s a injury that you’d have some questions for, it’s just one of those that thankfully I’ve put to bed now. As a guy who is going in fifth gear and 100 miles an hour most of the time, it took a bit of discipline and education by myself to learn how to manage things and I’ve it now under control. It was a groin problem, it’s common enough amongst a lot of footballers, it’s about managing it. Recovery is a big thing it’s about ensuring that you do your rehab as best you can after sessions.”
Facing into another Connacht final, is exactly where the Ballintubber man wants to be and he is looking forward to it. “It’s second nature now to a lot of us, this is championship season and this is where we want to be is fit and healthy with a good challenge ahead.”
The last meeting
Dillon was one of the men who were in Ruislip two years ago, when London nearly derailed Mayo’s championship before it got going, not that he remembers too much of it, he remarked. “I suppose, I got concussed so I can’t remember much of it in the second half, but I didn’t want to remember too much of it either. Listen, we’re a different unit than we were two years ago, a lot of different personnel than we had two years ago today, there are a lot of people who aren’t around now for different reasons, touch wood the work we’ve put in the last two seasons we can really maximise it and really bring something different about it. It was James’ first year, he was new to the scene, it’s always difficult. If you look back where we were prep-wise, pre-match and that kind of stuff, it’s miles off. It’s way more professional set up. We were lucky, but we improved as the season went on that year and got to the semi-final that year against Kerry and moved on.”
Being one of the elder statesmen of the team at only 30 years of age Dillon said that he always believed that Mayo have the players to stand up and be counted at the business end of the season. “I always honestly thought there was a good group of players there and a good squad and all it needed was someone to bring it together as professionally as James has and that’s what he’s done. We’ve got fellas now to a level where we can really compete and there is no reason why and hopefully this is three, and we can dominate Connacht for a few years.”
Looking for half a dozen
Come Sunday evening, Dillon will probably have his sixth Connacht medal in his back pocket and each one is as important to him as the other, even if Connacht hasn’t been as strong this year as others. “Connacht medals are precious to most players, you butter your bread in Connacht first and then take it further, that’s no different to myself or any of the players. A couple of years ago, I can’t remember some Connacht finals, at this stage it’s the most important game I’ll play this year.. That’s the way that I’ll have to approach it, London will bring something different, it’ll be different seeing a white and green jersey in a Connacht final.”
As for the level of opposition that Galway and Roscommon have put up to Mayo so far, Dillon puts a lot of it down to Mayo’s own game which they brought to each contest “It’s hard to know, everyone was shocked about the Galway performance that day. It’s never been as easy as it was that day in Salthill, we brought a serious intensity to that game and Galway couldn’t live with it. We’re at a stage where we’ve improved in division one over the past two years and reached semi-finals and finals, we’ve played at a higher level. It’s down to ourselves to maximise those performances at championship level.
“I had the height of excitement to run out and get my first start of the year, Galway and Mayo are the height of rivalry and I’ve experienced the downside in Pearse Stadium.” Whatever happens over the course of the rest of the year, Dillon’s influence will be key to Mayo’s progress as it has been in each of the last ten seasons.