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'I wouldn't put it down to tiredness - the connection just wasn't exactly the one that I wanted'

Cillian O’Connor reflects on that late free in last year’s All-Ireland final replay.

HE WAS THE saviour for Mayo last September but cut a haunted figure after the final whistle on the first day of October.

Cillian O’Connor misses late free to equalise the game Cillian O'Connor's late All-Ireland free went narrowly wide. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Cillian O’Connor kicked a memorable point to force a draw in the 2016 All-Ireland final before stepping up repeatedly in the replay as he nailed nine points from dead ball situations.

But at the end of an exhausting encounter, O’Connor saw his effort to draw the game from a free on the left wing, drift wide into the Hill 16 end.

Dublin hung on for a slender win and Mayo suffered the trauma of another All-Ireland final loss.

“I wouldn’t put it down to tiredness,” reflects O’Connor.

“It’s probably one that I would normally fancy myself of getting. It was probably just at the edge of my range. One that I would have maybe kicked in the past in different circumstances.

“Look, it was a pressure kick, and it just pulled to the near post and wide. I have looked at it and I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was.

“The connection just wasn’t exactly the one that I wanted and it just tailed off a little bit too soon to the left.”

O’Connor has always committed to self-improvement but delving into the process of reviewing that kick over the winter was not straightforward.

eir GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championships Launch Cillian O'Connor at eir's official launch of the 2017 GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship. Source: Cody Glenn/SPORTSFILE

“At the start it wasn’t easy to park it straight away. Of course there was a disappointment, that’s stating the obvious.

It was really, really disappointing for myself and everybody else on the team. Even in that particular play, people had made a block on our own ’21, worked it up through seven passes and Paddy (Durcan) won us a free.

“It’s as disappointing for them as it is for me. Obviously there’s that extra bit of responsibility on me because I was the one who kicked it.

“After that initial period of disappointment you just make the decision to go after it again. You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself and you can’t beat yourself up too much about these things or they’ll hold you back.

Cillian O’Connor reacts A dejected Cillian O'Connor reacts to that late missed free for Mayo. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“You have to just remove emotion and adrenalin and everything from it. There’s definitely a temptation to put that DVD of the game straight into the bin. That’s the first instinct.

“But if you ignore mistakes that you’re making or you ignore things like that, then you run the risk of them happening again.

“I suppose that mistake was pretty decisive if you’re looking at it from the outside, but there were shots missed throughout the whole game that carried the same weight that need to be analysed almost as much as that last kick.

“I watch back the games and I go through them and of course it’s not enjoyable, but you nearly have to slow your heart-rate and just be cold in your analysis and make sure that you learn from it.

Despite the disappointment of that kick, O’Connor still enjoys the responsibility of being Mayo’s chief free-taker.

He’s been entrusted with the role since starting out with the Mayo senior side in 2011 and struck 1-6, including five pointed frees, in their seasonal opener recently against Sligo.

Cillian O'Connor celebrbates with Diarmuid O'Connor after he scored the opening goal Cillian and Diarmuid O'Connor celebrate Mayo's opening goal against Sligo. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I do enjoy taking them. I’ve taken them since I was about 15 with the club and then 17 with Mayo.

“I suppose at the start it was a little bit daunting and you’re more susceptible at that age to be thinking about the outcomes.

“When I think about those things I make a bad connection or I don’t follow through or I do something silly that I know I should do but I’ve just forgotten about.

“As the years have gone on you get better at focusing on what you’re supposed to be doing at that particular time rather than worrying whether your manager is going to take you off if you miss, or if you’re fighting with the corner-back who’s shouting at you.

“You need to always just focus on the kick.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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