While Mayo got out of London with a comfortable win under their belts, the game didn't go exactly to plan for Mayo captain Cillian O'Connor, who left the action early on after picking up a black card. The Ballintubber man and the Mayo public will be hoping that he gets the full 70 minutes under his belt tomorrow evening when Galway come to town. Looking back on the card, O'Connor hopes to use it as a learning curve saying, "Personally I got a bit of a lesson anyway. So I have to make sure that it doesn't happen again, I'll do my best. I just need to make sure that I don't put myself in that position, that I don't give anyone an opportunity to give me a black card. So that is a lesson for myself."
Looking at the game as a whole and the lessons learned, he went on to say; "As far as lessons go or what we learned, there were different things we wanted to try. A big thing was that we got championship experience into four lads, who made their first championship start and two made their championship debuts. Brendan Harrison, Stephen Coen, Evan Regan, Paddy Durcan started, Shane Nally and Conor Loftus came on for their first appearances off the line. For those six lads to get championship football under their belt will give them confidence going into the Galway game."
O'Connor's year has been disrupted by rehab following an operation to take care of a niggling problem and he's still building himself back up to the level he wants to be at. "I have been playing a bit of catch up since the start of the year after the operation. I didn't get into the league obviously until late on. It would have been great to get a few more 70 minutes under the belt.
"Since the league I've basically tried to bridge that gap to get up to speed. Seventy minutes in London would have been ideal, but I didn't get that through my own fault. I think I am close to full fitness now. In training I feel pretty sharp, but you never really know until you are into the white heat."
He's still a young man, but new Mayo manager Stephen Rochford has entrusted O'Connor with the responsibility of being his leader on the field when he handed him the captaincy of the team. While he acknowledges it's a big responsibility, there are plenty of other experienced heads for him to look to for help, he said. "Probably I try to take on a small bit more responsibility. Naturally that is what happens, you have to fulfil a few more things when you're captain. I was vice captain for the previous two years so I had a taste of that and would have seen what the likes of Andy and Keith had to do last year. I suppose I talked to them about it and got some advice from them on what to do.
"I'm in a lucky position in that there is loads of championship appearances around me in the squad. There are loads of experienced players in the squad, who have been playing for the last 10 years. If there is ever - and there are plenty of times when I don't know what to do or what to say - loads of fellas can take up the mantle to lead it themselves. It's not like it all falls on me."
The vast majority of this Mayo team have been around the block a few times and come close to taking the ultimate step, but there has been an injection of new faces this year that won't allow anyone to rest on their laurels, says O'Connor. "I honest think it's getting harder. If you are a player, whether you like it or not, you start thinking about what is the team going to be. You start trying to predict the team in your head, filling in blanks. It is getting harder to do that this year because we have a number of players who can play in different positions. We've a number of interchangeable players who can come in and the team isn't in any way weakened. So I think the under 21 success in May gave everyone a bit of a kick. It is great to see the likes of Brendan Harrison and Stephen Coen, Paddy Durcan, Conor Loftus, and Shane Nally fitting in there very comfortably so far. It gives Stephen options which is good."
O'Connor continued saying:"Six guys had their first real day out the last day. It was great to see the boys who have been there since the start of the FBD getting their championship debuts. Four of the lads made their debuts, two came off the line for their first appearances. Those boys have put in serious ground work during the past six or seven months. To see them make their first of hopefully many appearances gave everyone a bit of a kick.
"It ties into options, it is great to have those under 21s. They don't care who you are or what age you are or where you are from. They just want to get playing for Mayo. They are really pushing everybody on in an aggressive way which is great."
Mayo have cruised through Connacht over the past couple of years, but O'Connor doesn't just see it as a pathway to the All Ireland series, he knows that nothing going to be easy in the province. "This is a Connacht semi-final, it is only a pathway to a Connacht final for a start. Championship fever and championship buzz in Castlebar is still separate to being a pathway because it has its own unique buzz around the place. I've been coming here to watch Mayo and Galway games since I was five so I know how special it is. Definitely I would love to get back into another Connacht final just to play it here, or to play it wherever, to try to win another Connacht medal. Pathway stuff and All Ireland quarter finals doesn't come into our thinking in June. It is just about beating Galway.
"It is the definition of a championship game whether it is in Salthill or here. It is real championship football, it will be a big event for Castlebar, for our team, for their team, it is what we want and what we are looking forward to it and we have been waiting for it for seven or eight months."