Sligo are the only team on the minds of Mayo players and management as they prepare an assault on the 2017 Connacht championship against the Yeats County in MacHale Park on Sunday afternoon. Both Stephen Rochford and his captain Cillian O’Connor were quick to shoot down any notions of Mayo being talked up as Nestor or Sam Maguire cup contenders until those trophies were on the line in a given game. Until then the name of the game is entirely the opposition in front of them.
Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser at the launch of the Connacht Senior Football Championship in Bekan last week, Stephen Rochford was at pains to point out that the result of the Connaught final in 2015 against Sligo would have no bearing whatsoever on this year’s encounter.
The Mayo manager said: “It’s 22 or 23 months later now, it will have absolutely no impact from our perspective. Will it act as some sort of motivation for Sligo? Maybe it will but that’s their business.”
He added: “We understand the threat that they possess and we will be doing all in our efforts to be better than that.”
Rochford was never in any doubt that it was going to be the Yeats County his side would be kicking off their championship season against. With the array of attacking talent at Niall Carew’s disposal the AIB bank manager fully expected Sligo to overcome the challenge of New York two weeks ago.
“I did expect them to get over it (New York ), any forward line that has the likes of Mark Breheny, Stephen Coen, Adrian Marran and Pat Hughes central to the attack and the likes of David Kelly coming off the bench shows the strength that Sligo have at the moment.”
Rochford’s appointed captain Cillian O’Connor heads into the 2017 championship on the back of his most consistent league campaign since 2013. Starting all seven games and finishing as Mayo’s top scorer with 2-32 for the campaign.
Recovering from injuries have been a necessary evil for the Ballintubber marksman in the early months of each year since injuring his shoulder prior to the 2013 All-Ireland semi-final so seeing a full complement of league action had the captain in fine form ahead of the championship throw-in.
“I had a shoulder injury a couple of years ago and I had my knee injury which I had operated on at the end of 2015 and thankfully both of those are fine and I played all the league games and I’ve trained the last few months injury free”.
The 24 year old recently began work in St Patrick’s National School in Castlebar and having the commute to and from Dublin taken out of his schedule has definitely aided in his recovery and preparation.
“It’s definitely a source of confidence to be able to say that I’ve clocked up whatever number of training sessions so far this year and whatever many games as well. I think even physically you get a bit of confidence that you’d be able to go a little bit longer or get a little bit sharper in the game and I definitely think it’s a positive and I’m thankful to the medical team that they’ve kept me and most of the panel on the field.”
Speaking of the challenge posed to Mayo and their attempts to regain the Nestor Cup which they monopolised in the first half of this decade, O’Connor was not too quick to look past this Sunday and Sligo.
“You have to get your own house in order first. That’s the majority of our time in preparing for each game, and the boys in the background will take the time to look at opposition. If we were playing Kerry or Galway on Sunday we would be really focused on what they are doing but for the time being we haven’t earned the right to be talking about anything like that yet.”
The fact Sligo competed in division three over the spring (where they defeated both promoted sides, Tipperary and Louth ) makes no difference to the Mayo captain.
“The numbers aren't going to make any difference once the championship comes. When the ball is thrown in in Castlebar on Sunday league standings are not going to count for anything, it’s nil all and 75 minutes where anything can happen.”
“They’ll (Sligo ) will take huge encouragement from the division three teams who went on runs last year (Tipperary and Clare ) and even their own performance, for the most part, against Roscommon in the championship last year was excellent and having a championship match already, the chance to implement a system and see how it went and try new players will stand to them as well.
“We just have to do our bit of homework on them but for the most part focus on getting ourselves right.”