Ryan Byrne/INPHO Cillian O'Connor.
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'It's disappointing for Cillian but it's by no means a disaster' - Horan sees opportunity in O'Connor injury blow
The two-time All-Star is ‘out for the foreseeable future’ – likely the remainder of the 2021 season.

MAYO BOSS JAMES Horan has confirmed that Cillian O’Connor is likely out for the remainder of the 2021 season after suffering an Achilles tendon injury.

Mayo GAA announced last week that star forward O’Connor would undergo a procedure, having sustained the injury in the Division 2 promotion play-off victory over Clare — his 100th appearance for the county.

The exact nature of the injury has not been made public, nor has the length of his layoff from action been specified.

And Horan refused to disclose any further detail when asked if it was a rupture at yesterday’s EirGrid Timing Sponsorship Launch, though noted that it wasn’t an ongoing niggle.

“He just went to push off and it just went. Just one of those bizarre, bizarre things,” the Green and Red manager said. “He had a procedure on his Achilles so there’ll be quite a bit of rehab with it.”

Understandably, Mayo’s preparation for the 2021 championship – which opens with the Connacht quarter-final against Sligo at Markievicz Park on Saturday – has been dealt a major blow, with the timing of the injury a setback for O’Connor and the squad.

That said, Horan is choosing to remain optimistic despite the loss of his top-scorer and deadly accurate free-taker.

“Cillian is out for the foreseeable future,” he began on his Ballintubber clubmate. “That will probably be the season. Yeah, it’s a blow to Cillian obviously at a personal level. It is what it is.

“I suppose we’re lucky in one way that we have a lot of players playing very well in training and as you know, we have a lot of young players coming through so one of those are going to have to step up.

It’s disappointing for Cillian for sure but it’s by no means a disaster. Cillian would be the first that if someone else is injured, you know, who is going to be the guy that’s going to push up or step up or take it on, he’d be the first on that. That’s the way it is.

“At the higher level, the level we’re trying to play at, it’s an opportunity for someone who has been maybe knocking on the door to go in there now. What a great role model they had in the way Cillian plays the game that they can learn from that.

“I’d be confident in what we’ve seen from training since. We have a number of guys pushing incredibly hard. So yeah, from every crisis comes opportunity or whatever.”

While Horan says that the “key principles” of Mayo’s game will remain the same despite the loss of O’Connor, the fulcrum of the attack, he still has a “huge role to play” and will be “involved in some capacity,” his leadership second-to-none particularly after several high-profile retirements through the winter.

Paul Towey, Ryan O’Donoghue, Conor Loftus, Jason Doherty and Darren Coen are all “very high level free-takers” that Horan is looking at in that regard also.

eirgrid-gaa-official-timing-sponsorship-launch Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE James Horan, Mayo Senior Football manager, and Éamonn Fitzmaurice, former Kerry Senior Football manager, pictured as EirGrid announced a five-year partnership extension for the GAA Official Timing Sponsorship. Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

Former Kerry manager Éamonn Fitzmaurice says O’Connor will be a massive loss for the county, though also sees opportunity elsewhere.

He draws parallels from various different experiences through his playing and managerial career; one of those in 2014 when the Kingdom won the All-Ireland without the services of talismanic forward Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper.

“Look, I think he’s a huge loss,” Fitzmaurice said. “His scoring is off the charts but outside of that, he leads their press when they’re tackling as well. That’s a big part of Mayo’s identity and their effectiveness, how good they are at putting on pressure from the front: he leads that, and he’ll be a huge loss in that. And obviously then, he is a big leader.

“No different to us in 2014 when Colm was out, he was a huge loss to us. You just have to move on. I suppose a possible difference with us in 2014 was we knew that Colm was out mid-to-late February, so we have to move on with that for the whole season. We played most of the league without him and then obviously into the championship without him as well. That was probably an advantage we had.

But there is generally an acceptance within the rest of the group that they have to rise it, they have to raise their own standards and their own performances if a big player is down.

“I remember in the 2004 All-Ireland final,” he continued, “our two best players, Darragh Ó Sé was out with a broken leg and Seamus Moynihan was back from a bad ankle injury and he wasn’t ready to start. We won the All-Ireland after having not won it since 2000 in 2004, and if you told Kerry people at the start of the year that we’d win the All-Ireland and neither Seamus Moynihan or Darragh Ó Sé would be playing the All-Ireland final, they’d have said no chance.

“I think there can be a thing where you lift the standards… Kieran Donaghy was missing as well in 2009 when Kerry won the All-Ireland, so there can be a raising of standards, but that’s down to the rest of the players really, more so than the management.

“The management can talk about it and try to enable the players, but it’s up to the players to raise their standards. Mayo have some good young players coming through and who knows, a couple of those might catch fire in Cillian’s absence. But undoubtedly, he’s going to be a huge loss to them.”

In more positive Mayo news, Horan confirmed that Diarmaid O’Connor is “pushing well” and “very close,” Cillian’s younger brother having tweaked his hamstring in the Clare game.

Likewise, Jason Doherty and Brendan Harison are on the comeback trail and will be in contention over the coming weeks.

Aidan O’Shea continues as Mayo captain, with Paddy Durcan in the vice-skipper role.

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