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'In championship football, you can get put on your arse very quickly'

Mayo have bounced back impressively from a shock defeat to Galway in Connacht – and experienced head Alan Dillon is happy to play his part in whatever way he can.

Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

ALAN DILLON’S BEEN around long enough to know that Gaelic Football’s a fickle sport.

The Ballintubber player is 33 now (34 next month) and made his senior debut for the Westerners back in 2003.

He’s experienced the highs of reaching All-Ireland finals, and the lows associated with losing them.

He’s experienced the frustration of feeling that he was good enough to be in the team in more recent times, but finding himself on the outside looking in.

Remarkably, Dillon made his first championship start since the 2014 meeting with Kerry when he lined out against Tyrone in the recent All-Ireland quarter-final.

He was taken off at half-time but pleased, nonetheless, with what he contributed while on the pitch.

Once a high-energy playmaker, Dillon’s now happy to fulfil a more understated role, a link-man with excellent game intelligence.

Yeah, in the last couple of weeks and months I have been happy enough with my performances in training. For a lot of people I’m still alive, I haven’t gone away.

“It is good to get back to Croke Park, I suppose the way we set up it gave me opportunity to get on a lot of ball.

“There were plenty of pockets to work in. With the system we deployed I fitted in nicely to it in the first half. We got some scores, I was happy enough.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“When you get a performance and you play a part it is always happy to look back on that.”

Whether or not he starts against Tipperary on Sunday remains to be seen but Dillon, naturally, wants to see as much game-time as possible.

“From being a starter over the past number of years to changing roles in terms of being an impact sub and being a non-starter is always difficult.

You just have to stick to the process to try to convince yourself that you still have a part to play in the squad and in the team.

“It is not always easy, but my end goal is to try to win a championship.

“Whatever part I play in 2016 is for the benefit of the team, you have to give that positive energy to ensure that you aren’t looking at just the individual, you are looking at the collective.

“The last day it went well for me. I got  a bit of confidence from it, but the next day I mightn’t start. I might play a role. That may get us in to the All Ireland final.”

Paul Murphy with Alan Dillon Alan Dillon in action against Kerry during the 2014 All-Ireland SFC semi-final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

If that happens, Dillon will be more than happy because last year, he wasn’t.

“For the number of training sessions to the number of minutes there was a big deficit there. It was difficult.

I will make no arguments on that. I was still contributing in training, I was still asking questions of the starters. I still felt that this year I had something to offer. Hopefully in the next 70 minutes against Tipperary I will have something to offer.

“The belief hasn’t changed, I’m getting older, the body isn’t probably the same as it was starting out.

“Again, I have my individual goals and team goals just to get back. While you are at the latter end of the championship it is always good at this time of the year.

“There is a good  spirit in the camp and we are really looking forward to the challenge on Sunday.”

For Mayo, the road to redemption following that Connacht semi-final defeat against Galway has taken them back to an All-Ireland semi-final.

But he’s honest enough to admit that the Galway game was unacceptable from a Mayo viewpoint – and that seeing the Tribesmen go on to claim provincial glory was hard to stomach.

Gary O Donnell lifts the trophy Gary O'Donnell lifts the Nestor Cup for Galway. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Some of the effort and some of the hard work wasn’t evident against Galway,” Dillon reflects.

“I suppose some of the lads perceived that we’ll just get through this game but in championship you can get beaten in any given day.

“We just didn’t do enough and we had to set new goals and new standards in the squad and try and flush out what was happening from the National League to what was happening from the Galway game.

We were miles off in terms of tackle count, aggression. Standards within the Galway game weren’t maintained and there were definitely hard questions to be answered individually and collectively.

“We went around answering them questions and that’s why the performance against Tyrone was definitely a highlight for this team from where we were against Galway to where we are now.

“It’s a small line in terms of preparation that you think you are in a good place and being in a good place.

Shane Walsh celebrates at the final whistle Shane Walsh hails Galway's victory over old rivals Mayo. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“I think, psychologically, we were at home in Castlebar thinking of a Connacht Final with Galway ahead of us.

“The hard questions were asked in the second half when Galway got level with us, we didn’t have the answer to fight back.

“All credit to Galway, they had us in their sights as sitting targets for six or seven weeks before and maybe we had taken our eye off the ball and in championship football you can get put on your arse very quickly and we were on our arse.”

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