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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 13 November, 2018

Realising it's time to go from Mayo, the 2014 low in Limerick and Croke Park career highlights

The attacker called time on his inter-county career last November.

AS MAYO’S WHIRLWIND championship journey unfolded last summer, Alan Dillon started to realise where his place in their setup was.

Alan Dillon Mayo footballer Alan Dillon. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Appearances had become scarce. He was sprung from the bench in the qualifiers against Clare and Cork. When Mayo rolled up at Croke Park, the 35-year-old got on during their quarter-final replay demolition of Roscommon.

Alan Dillon and David Murray Alan Dillon's final appearance against Roscommon last August. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It would transpire to be the last of his 134 appearances in the county colours. Dillon was not used for the remainder of Mayo’s 2017 adventure.

A creative attacking lynchpin for so long at the heart of the Mayo attack, recognised for his exploits with All-Star awards in 2006 and 2012, Dillon’s role had changed.

In late November he pulled the plug on his Mayo career. It felt like a natural time to bring it to an end.

“This was the first year really I kind of got an inkling they were looking at a different aspect in terms of power, pace coming off the bench.

“Listen it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you’re down the pecking order here. You want to play minutes. That’s your motivation to train and prove yourself.

“Every decision about your life is about making a contribution to Mayo football but you have got to acknowledge there are horses for courses too and management have to make a call. It’s a different stage in my career the last number of years compared to when you wouldn’t even flinch an eyelid and you’d just go out and you’d play.

“Everyone has them years when you’re a bit down on yourself and (asking) what more can you do. You’re a nag around the house, you’re complaining and you’re looking externally rather than looking internally to yourself. It takes a bit of getting used to. You’ve got to accept it and you just hope you get your chance at some stage.

“Once the All-Ireland was over, I went back to my club. Discussed it with my family and my wife. Once you’re happy, you let them know and there’s no reason not to tell anyone else. Once you’re at peace with it, you thank everyone and you just get on with it.”

Alan Dillon Alan Dillon at today's GAA Player Conference Launch in Croke Park. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The option was there to link up with the Mayo squad on their post-season trip to Malaysia but Dillon reckoned a farewell holiday was not the best call. He needed to move on.

“Listen once you’re off that kind of bus, you’re off it. Going on a holiday like that, I knew that the lads would probably be doing a couple of collective sessions.

“I didn’t want to be the person at the bar at 12 o’clock singing songs to myself while the rest of them are thinking about training in the morning!

“There’s a kind of a sense in yourself to just leave it the way it is. It’s an easy enough decision, once you say it to herself that she’s not going on the holiday either and we’ll go somewhere else!”

Dillon retired with acclaim from his peers for his style of play. His trophy cabinet is well-stocked with Connacht medals but the coveted All-Ireland accolade eluded him as Mayo fell short at the final hurdle in six of the seasons he was involved.

Alan Dillon lifts the cup Alan Dillon lifts the cup after the 2011 Connacht final victory over Roscommon. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“While experiencing so much within them years, there is that regret that we didn’t pull one off. The last three or four years, we’ve come agonisingly close (but) again came up against a superior Dublin team who will be talked about for the next decades to come because of what they’ve achieved.

“(I’m) very proud of representing the county, very proud of what we’ve achieved. Even the five-in-a-row in Connacht that time was a big achievement.

“There is satisfaction that we changed the landscape probably of Mayo football in terms of what we were perceived at when I began my career versus where we actually are now.

“Making six or seven (All-Ireland) semi-finals in a row, competing in All-Ireland finals and nearly pulling it off but not yet having that finishing touch.”

Alan Dillon A dejected Alan Dillon after the 2016 loss to Dublin. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The most shattering disappointment did not come in the wake of an All-Ireland decider though. For Dillon it is the 2014 loss in that frenetic semi-final replay to Kerry which generated the greatest pain.

“We went back to Westport after the Kerry replay and watched Donegal beat Dublin that day. That was really, really, really a low point. We saw the opportunity and all of a sudden it just passed.

“The first day in 2014 when we played Kerry we were five points up and down a man. Then (James) O’Donoghue got that goal. I knew that day, ‘oh my God’, it was going to be a really big one to beat them in Limerick.

“While we got into injury-time, the collisions, Robert Hennelly’s shot near the end, there were so many things.

“Longford (2006) was very low as well. But, definitely, 2014 (was a low).”

Alan Dillon Dillon and his Mayo colleagues lost out after extra=time in 2014 to Kerry. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

There were plenty moments of glory to cherish as well, particularly conquering Dublin in the 2006 and 2012 All-Ireland semi-finals.

“In terms of real atmosphere and passion and in terms of elation in beating them, they were huge highs. The ’04 (win) against Tyrone was a huge high.

“I know 2011 when (James) Horan took over, we actually beat the All-Ireland champions three years in a row which was (a) huge psychological effort for the lads just to take out the All-Ireland champions.

“There’s not one real highlight, it was just coming to Croke Park and giving your all. Coming off the pitch, the sense of satisfaction was brilliant.”

He’ll plough his energies now into the club game with Ballintubber. Since their maiden Mayo senior title win in 2010, Dillon has collected two more county medals and lost another two finals.

Alan Dillon celebrates Alan Dillon celebrates Ballintubber's 2014 Mayo county senior title victory. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“We had a good club campaign after last year and that gave me a small bit of motivation because I had limited game-time all year and I wanted to finish the season on a high.

“Castlebar are very strong as well so we got beaten in the final. In Ballintubber we’ve set a standard where the minimum is a county title.

“There’s a good bunch of lads there. Michael Plunkett is on the county squad now, you’ve Jason Gibbons, Cillian and Diarmuid (O’Connor), there’s a couple of good fellas coming up from minor as well.

“(I’m) looking forward to getting to know these fellas because I haven’t been around for so long. Hopefully we can have a bit of craic and enjoy it and get down to Páidi Ó Se’s tournaments. A few things like that.”

Watching Mayo in 2018 rather than playing for them will be an adjustment but he is optimistic about Stephen Rochford’s side enjoying another prolonged season.

Aidan O'Shea and Alan Dillon celebrate at the final whistle Alan Dillon and Aidan O'Shea after the 2016 victory over Tyrone. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“Next year will be one of those years that you just hope that they can actually muster that bit of extra luck that has been agonisingly missing the last two years.

“Next year will be a huge year for this group of lads because not only potentially you might see a drop off after that, they’re in a position now (that) they can line themselves up to have a right rattle off it.

“When you’ve been involved in something for so long, it takes a while to just step outside of that bubble. But so far so good, the weather has been poor so I’m delighted I haven’t been on the field and that kind of stuff!

“You have your down days and your up days and that’s part of life. Once you make that decision and you’re happy with it, you just have to go with it.

“I had the longevity of the last number of years playing for Mayo. It’s time to pass on that baton to the younger group so they can instil the same pride and commitment to wearing the red and green.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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