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Composed O’Connor comes of age

Composed O’Connor comes of age in style

Rob Murphy

NOT surprisingly, Cillian O’Connor was the centre of attention among both media and Mayo supporters when the drama finally came to an end.
Winning the official man of the match award after a composed display in a high-pressure environment had underlined the 19 year-old’s status as a precocious talent. Requests for autographs, photos and interviews were all obliged. 
“I’m still shaking with adrenaline,“ a soaked and freezing O’Connor told The Mayo News afterwards.
“A Connacht title was our aim from the outset of the year. We sat down, set out the goals and we all agreed to it. We knew coming to the Hyde that it was going to be an absolute battle but we’ve come through it and we’re absolutely delighted.”
Two years ago the teenager from Cortoon, Ballintubber was leading the line as the Mayo minor team lost out to Armagh in the All-Ireland final.
Twelve months ago he kicked nine points in an All-Ireland minor quarter-final against Offaly in another man of the match display at Hyde Park. One 60m free, in particular, stood out from the rest that day.
It has been an incredibly fast apprenticeship for Mayo’s rising star.
However, there was never any disputing O’Connor’s pedigree, and just over a week ago he got the nod to take over the free-taking duties for the senior side.
“From the beginning of the year, there were always three or four of us practicing, regardless of who was taking them in games. We practised every evening after training together, and every second evening on our own.
“Ten days ago I was told I’d be taking them,” he added. “It didn’t make any difference to my training routine to be honest because I would have been practicing all year anyway.
“Frees are not always the deciding factor but today they were. We got them and I was just glad most of them went over.”
O’Connor captained the Mayo minor team last year and he seemed an ideal choice. His maturity is a key reason why he has graduated so quickly to the senior ranks.
The young man’s demeanour was impressive as he gave this reporter some insight into what Mayo’s dressing-room was like at half-time.
“We were four points down and we knew the breeze wasn’t going to win it for us on its own, but we sat down and took a breather,” he explained.
“There was no roaring and shouting. Everyone knew what they had to do and focussed on their own game. There wasn’t anyone giving any orders. We had a quiet chat. We knew we had the beating of them if we played direct.”
That calmness and composure was evident in the third quarter as Mayo reeled off three points to get back into the contest and set up a rip-roaring finale.
Among the drama late on was a missed Roscommon goal chance and an incredible intervention by Robert Hennelly that denied Donie Shine an equalising point.
“That was a massive turning point,” surmised Cillian O’Connor.
“I saw it going up, I thought it was going over, so I was delighted when it dropped short and Rob got to it. He was solid as ever today and when he got that ball it just gave us a bit of a lift and momentum all over the field.
“The backs were rock solid all day and when the ball found its way inside, Jason [Doherty], Alan [Freeman] and Enda [Varley] were winning their fair share of it, which made a massive difference.”
Paul Earley’s decision to select O’Connor for the TV3 man of the match accolade crowned a memorable first Connacht senior final day for the man of the moment.
“It’s a massive boost to get it,” he admitted. “But to be honest I’d trade it any day for a Connacht medal. I’m delighted with that.”we’re looking forward to it.”

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