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Without hat-tricks I’d still be fighting to impress, says red-hot Cillian O’Connor

Mayo’s two-time Young Player of the Year has been in devastating form since coming back from a shoulder injury.

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

TO LOOK AT Cillian O’Connor this summer you’d think that he has been scoring hat-tricks all his life.

But the two-time Young Player of the Year admits that, before his goal glut against London and Donegal, he can’t remember the last time he hit three in the same game.

“You would have to go back to U12 days,” he suggests after thinking on it for a moment or two.

So while it was nice to finish off so many opportunities, there were no wild celebrations or attempts to take home the match-ball. After spending a long stretch of the year in the recovery room, O’Connor’s reward was a lot more practical.

“It’s going to cement my place in the team for a while,” he explains. “That’s the first concern of mine. Because when I was out looking in, we had lots of lads playing well.

I would worried I wasn’t going to get back in. That’s the reason I would be happy to be getting scores like that because I know I’m back in James [Horan's] mind now for the first 15. That’s the first step to playing in Croker.

The comeback could hardly have been scripted better. Sprung from the bench at half-time in the Connacht final against London with the game already well under control, O’Connor fired home a 15-minute treble to turn a win into a procession.

All-Ireland champions Donegal were expected to be made of sterner stuff in the quarter-finals but again O’Connor raised the green flag. Once. Twice. Three times.

“I think I’m probably playing a bit closer to goal maybe,” he says by way of explanation.

“I think the bounce of the ball went my way definitely for three or four of the goals. But the lads can take huge credit for it. Against London especially, they laid them on a plate for me.

image

O’Connor shapes before scoring against London (©INPHO/James Crombie)

“Credit for those goals is further back the field than me. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

The possibility of playing at all this season, let alone in Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final against Tyrone, seemed a remote possibility when O’Connor was sitting in the back of an ambulance after dislocating his shoulder in a club game for Ballintubber.

The Connacht semi-final against Roscommon was just around the corner and after missing a large chunk of the winter and spring with a similar shoulder injury suffered just days after last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, the youngster feared the worst.

I just remember sitting in the back of the ambulance leaving the pitch. That’s when my mind started racing and thinking about later on in the year and ifs and buts.

The doctor and medics wouldn’t give me a straight answer when I would be back. They couldn’t put an exact date on it so it was kind of a scary time

Thankfully I just put faith in the medical team because I got back probably a small bit quicker than I had anticipated.

“I had done certain things in training. I had done full contact but it’s always different in a game. But to come through 30 minutes like that [against London], especially after the boys had given us a bit of a cushion, was brilliant.

“Then for the lads to lay the scores on for me like that, that was great for my confidence and to reassure me that I was back and able to play.”

“I think the apprehension is gone. I’m confident in it. I think it is gone. I’m back fully fit and I want to train hard and just look forward to the 25th.”

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Niall Kelly

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