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Cillian O’Connor makes GAA history

Sport

ON THE BALL Mayo’s Cillian O’Connor is pictured in action against Kerry in the All-Ireland SFC last Sunday in Killarney. Pic: Sportsfile

Cillian O’Connor became the championship’s all-time leading scorer last Sunday

Edwin McGreal

THE thought of a Mayo forward breaking Colm Cooper’s all-time championship record in the Gooch’s back yard in Killarney would not have been an appealing one to Kerry folk.
Stopping Cillian O’Connor scoring five points on Sunday was always going to be difficult, but by dishing out a heavy defeat to Mayo, Kerry did the next best thing – they almost forced the achievement under the radar.
Fifty-four minutes had elapsed when the Ballintubber clubman converted a free to make history. It reduced Mayo’s deficit from nine points to eight and was, unfortunately, a footnote on an otherwise very disappointing day for the team.
But O’Connor’s record ought to be acknowledged for what it is — an outstanding individual feat.
In just 52 championship games (over 30 fewer than the Gooch), O’Connor is out on his own with 23-285. It’s an average of 6.8 points per game, some going.
O’Connor’s return from play, too, is not to be sniffed at. He has struck 15-61 from play, an average of 2.04 points per game. He has kicked 8-224 from frees (0-210), 45s (0-12) and penalties (8-1), representing 70 percent of his total.
Indeed, even though he broke one record on Sunday, he lost another one!
His penalty being tipped over the bar by Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan was his first ever miss from the spot in league or championship. It was that kind of day.
There has been much commentary of how it is easy for O’Connor to rack up high scores playing against the likes of New York, London and lower ranked teams in the Qualifiers.
Some diligent work by Fergal De Burca, a native of Ceathrú Thaidhg, has revealed that O’Connor has a lower average against London and New York (six points) than in the All-Ireland series (All-Ireland quarter-final onwards) where he has averaged 6.9 points per game, 2.1 of which was from play.
It makes light of claims by many that O’Connor is not a ‘big game’ player. In fact he has averaged 8.4 points per game against Dublin in seven games, the highest average score against any opposition he has played more than once (discounting 3-9 v Limerick and 0-12 v Derry). That is some going against the five-in-a-row chasing Dubs!
O’Connor made his debut as a substitute in Ruislip in 2011, and his record in London is actually poor, only scoring 0-1 across two games, being a sub in ‘11 and black carded early on in 2016.
He had better luck playing London in Castlebar, scoring 3-3 in the 2013 Connacht Final after coming on at half-time. He followed that up with another hat-trick in the next game, the All-Ireland quarter-final win over Donegal.
The other of his three championship hat-tricks was against Limerick in 2018. Indeed the Gaelic Grounds is his happiest hunting ground with an 11.5 average from four games played there.
The Mayo News would like to express our thanks also to John Gunnigan, James Rocke and Michael Lang for their assistance in helping to clarify O’Connor’s running total ahead of last weekend’s game in Kerry.
And because he is only 27 years old, there will be plenty more record-keeping to be done in the seasons to come.