OUT OF THE SHADOWS Ballintubber’s Cillian O’Connor, centre, celebrates at the end of the 2014 Mayo SFC Final with his brother Diarmuid, right, and Tom McGing, left. Pic: Sportsfile
IT didn’t surprise me that Cillian O’Connor was voted as the best senior club footballer in the county in last week’s poll in this newspaper.
Especially when you consider the position he plays.
I’m like a broken record now in saying that the most valuable player you can put on the field is the one who can play in the full-forwardline and put up scores.
Then you add in the fact that Cillian’s an excellent free-taker, who you can rely on to kick frees from long and short range, and has the mentality and experience to score them regularly, he’s not going to get flustered. Even if he does miss a chance, you know he’s got the mental strength if there’s a crucial one to be kicked later in the game, he’s as likely to score it as ever.
If you’re an opposition manager playing against Ballintubber, good and all as some of their other players are, Cillian is the main man that you’re hoping you can shut down or that he has an off-day.
Take last year’s county championship quarter-final against Belmullet when Chris Barrett did a really good job on him. But Cillian got one chance and he stuck it in the net, even though it wasn’t Chris’ fault! It came as a result of really good play from Diarmuid O’Connor, Cillian buried it, and he kicked all his frees. And Ballintubber won.
They’re hard to beat when you have a player as efficient as Cillian.
He also gives his own team-mates’ confidence because if you’re one of them you know if a free comes, Cillian will score it. If a goal chance comes, he will take it.
When he misses games, Ballintubber are not the same team at all.
For me, he’s the most important player in the best club team in Mayo.
Opposition managers also know you’re not going to rough him up at this stage!
I don’t know Cillian personally and that was just one of the reasons why it was such a pleasure to get to interview him for The Mayo News Football Podcast.
Having watched him do his thing over the years, I knew he obviously looked like a player who invested a lot in the mental side of his game.
Coming away from the interview last week, you hear how so many of his answers are wrapped up in the psychology of how he approaches a game, the position he plays, his own performance.
I thought it was very telling that Cillian picked out his favourite score as one from a Connacht championship match against Roscommon a few years ago, at a time when he was playing poorly, but the team needed him to kick a difficult, pressure free.
Overall, I learned from our chat that he’s even more focussed, and more invested, in his mental approach to the game than I realised.
Whether Cillian can hit the heights again of previous years comes down to his body and how he has recovered from his injuries, especially to his knees.
Mentally, I think he’s going to be able to cope with the pressure of being the ‘go-to’ forward and the free-taker for Mayo. But will his body stand up to the demands of inter-county?
Maybe this break will do the likes of him the world of good, in terms of giving him a chance to get his body right again. He certainly gave the sense in the interview that he’s really happy with how his body has healed over the last few months.
So if that happens, he can find the hunger, and other things like his career or personal life don’t become more important in the next few years, then I think he can find his best form again.
And that would be great news for him and Mayo supporters everywhere.
He’s Mayo’s most important player
IN my opinion, Cillian is the most important Mayo player of this era (2011-2019) and I don’t think they would have had the successes they had without him. They would not have improved and done what they did without him.
Considering they are the best Mayo team since 1951, that’s as much praise as I can give him!
He was a leader, a score-getter, a forward and a free-taker that could be relied on, similar to any other elite forward that other counties rely on.
Cillian made the difference in so many games; he was the ruthless, efficient scorer. As he said in the interview last week, he wanted to be ruthless on the pitch and ruthless on the scoreboard. He had that hunger to be ruthless too, always looking for more goals, more scores. I can’t remember any other Mayo player who had that mentality and ability.
Are there players who are more flamboyant? More stylish? Better at some aspects of forward play than he is? Yes, on all counts.
But I consider him as the best Mayo forward of the last ten years and he would definitely be on my greatest Mayo team of all time.
A lot of people wonder sometimes why Cillian isn’t as universally popular as maybe some of his team-mates. . . Sure, he’s respected and most Mayo supporters sing his praises, but considering his list of achievements and his phenomenal scoring rates, it’s fair to say I think that’s he not talked about in the same way as the likes of maybe Colm Boyle or Lee Keegan.
I think how he plays as a forward definitely influences people’s perception of him.
Compared to the flamboyance of Ciaran McDonald or Andy Moran in his pomp, and some of the spectacular scores they conjured up, Cillian is more about efficiency most of the time.
But just look at his stats — 25-297 in 55 championship games.
They speak for themselves at this stage.