Billy Joe Padden
THOSE of us who are now known as ‘ex-Mayo footballers’ welcomed a new member to our ranks last week when Alan Dillon called it a day.
Having soldiered with him for many years, I have no hesitation in saying that, pound for pound, he was the best footballer I ever played with.
His football brain, cleverness and game intelligence was second to none.
The two of us go back a long way, right back to our days on the Mayo Vocational School team together in the late 1990s.
We won an All-Ireland Vocational Schools title together in 1999 and lost an All-Ireland Minor Final later that year too.
As a fella, Alan never changed over the years. Off the field, he was easy-going and happy-go-lucky, always a step ahead of everybody else.
On the field he was a fierce competitor, who was as hard as nails, and had the respect of everyone he played with.
There are a few reasons why I believe that Alan was one of Mayo’s best ever half-forwards. The first thing that comes to mind was his consistency, his ability to get the best out of himself so often.
Another of his greatest attributes was his toughness.
Alan wasn’t the biggest, strongest or fastest footballer but he was incredibly tough, both mentally and physically. I know his father, Gerry, always felt that it was Alan’s innate toughness that made him different.
He wouldn’t have been the footballer he was without that steel, and his ability to take a belt and just carry on, was always something that struck me.
Even in training, when John Maughan was pushing us to the pin of our collars, ‘Dillo’ would just keep on trucking. Anything that was thrown at him, he dealt with it.
He was technically very good, exceptional at gathering low ball that came his way, and he was able to jink left or right quickly in order to buy himself space.
That trademark ‘jink left, go right’ move always seemed to work for him!
I played with him for so long that I knew by his body shape which way he was going to move or run to take a pass. And once he got the ball in his hands, he had the footballing brain and the two great feet to do damage.
In full flight, he was unstoppable.
I always thought there were very few guys who could make so much out of so little over the years too. Just think back to the All-Ireland semi-final of 2006 against Dublin when he scored four points from play without any fuss.
He was just thinking that bit quicker than guys around him and clocking up scores with a little flick there or a sidestep here.
Those of us who played with Dillon knew how good he was, but I think he probably was under-appreciated by a lot of GAA people around the country.
Maybe that was because a lot of fans are seduced by pace, power and the spectacular players.
Because Dillon wasn’t that type of footballer, and didn’t have the athleticism or kicking power of a Séan Cavanagh, a lot of people seemed to underestimate him.
In hindsight, I think Alan had the best spell of his Mayo career from 2011-2013, those first few seasons under James Horan, when he was playing in a set-up and under a manager that he completely believed in.
There’s no doubt that if this Mayo team win an All-Ireland in the next few years, it will be hard for him to miss out on it. But at the same time, there’s no doubt that Mayo wouldn’t be in a position to be able to win it without him.
Along with James Horan and Andy Moran, I feel Dillon was one of the key architects in making this Mayo team so competitive and hard to beat.
As a friend and a footballer, I’d describe ‘Dillo’ as loyal, hardworking and honest. He always looked out for you and never shirked from a challenge.
Maybe that’s why he’s going into politics now!
Good luck to him in his retirement, he was one of Mayo’s very best.
Dillon: “I’ve been blessed, I gave it my all”
‘EVERYONE has their time and my time has come…..Today I wish to announce my inter-county retirement from the Mayo Senior Football Team.
Playing the game, representing this team, giving my all and never letting go has meant everything to me. If asked to write a script for my career back in 2003, there is no way I would’ve been able to imagine this journey but now I feel it’s the right time to step away.
The wins and losses will be remembered, but what I’ll remember most are all my team-mates who I can never give enough credit to from over the years. I have played with some of the best players to ever line out in the red and green of Mayo and have also had the honour of captaining this great county.
I was very fortunate to have played under so many fantastic Mayo managers all of whom contributed greatly to my career and I would like to extend my sincere thanks to them all for putting faith in me as a footballer.
Thank you to the people of Mayo for all your support over these years in the good and challenging times. It’s been a humbling experience and made me realise how lucky and privileged I am. I would also like to thank Mayo County Board and all the selectors, trainers, backroom staff and medical teams who pushed me and held me together on and off the field.
I will always be eternally grateful to my club Ballintubber GAA. Their backing has enabled me to compete at the very highest level and follow my boyhood dream of playing for Mayo.
I wish to thank the GPA for their continued support on behalf of myself and inter-county players all over the country.
Finally to my wife Ashling, my parents Gerry and Eileen, brother Gary, sister Lisa and close family and friends, I sincerely thank you for your understanding, loyalty and support. I will be forever grateful for all you have done.
The sense of genuine pride every time I got from wearing the Mayo jersey and representing this county I love will live with me forever. I stand here at the end of this ride, knowing I gave it my all.
I look forward to my next chapter and know that I have been blessed in so many ways to have experienced what I have. I will continue to support this talented Mayo team for the years ahead and would like to wish the current manager Stephen Rochford and his team the very best for the coming season.
Statement by Alan Dillon released last Tuesday, November 28.