#TheToughest – Ballintubber player Cillian O’Connor is pictured at his club in Co.Mayo ahead of his side’s AIB GAA Connacht Club Championship Semi-Final against St.Brigid’s of Roscommon.
Club Star

Cillian O'Connor on nine goals in a Mayo semi-final and Ballintubber's Connacht hopes

Ballintubber take on St Brigid’s in tomorrow’s AIB Connacht senior club semi-final.

“IT DEFINITELY HADN’T happened before and I’d be fairly surprised it ever happened again.”

Cillian O’Connor is reflecting on the goalscoring spree, that burst of nine strikes to the net that himself and his Ballintubber club mates totted up last month.

His remarks specifically hone in on his own family and how they made their mark that day against Knockmore in Castlebar

It was no routine league game or challenge match either, they chose the grandeur of the stage of a championship semi-final to leave their mark.

Cillian struck a hat-trick with his brothers Padraic, Ruaidhri and Diarmuid hitting one apiece. A little slice of family history then.

“We’d never done anything like that before,” laughs O’Connor. “I don’t think we’d even had three of us scoring a goal in a match before. That was definitely Ruaidhri’s only goal for Ballintubber. He could be waiting a while for the next one!”

They kicked on from that semi-final win to claim the Mayo county senior title, toppling a Castlebar Mitchels side that had sampled Croke Park last St Patrick’s Day. It was a good day for the family, 2013 All-Ireland minor winner Diarmuid having finally graduated to a victorious senior side with his brothers.

“Padraig is the eldest at 27, then Ruaidhri is 25, I’m 22 and Diarmuid is 19,” says Cillian. “It was something we enjoyed after winning together. The week or two leading into the final, it wasn’t something we thought about.

“You’re focusing on preparing right for the game. You don’t really sit down until afterwards and realize the importance of winning with your three brothers. It was nice.”

They enjoyed this success. In 2010 they claimed the club’s first senior title and that typically ignited a blaze of celebrations. Retaining it the following year kept the good times rolling on. Two seasons without silverware can sow doubts but Ballintubber have climbed to a higher level now. Three senior triumphs in five years has a ring of greatness to it.

Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“It was brilliant to win again,” says O’Connor. “Just huge. There were doubters within the county about us and even within our own panel. You’ll always have those kind of self doubts, wondering are they going to be the only two victories we’ll have. But instead we came back and proved we could mix it with the likes of Castlebar.”

For O’Connor, the club run has been a balm to the raw wounds inflicted by a painful All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kerry.

“I went training the Tuesday after the Mayo Kerry game and it was brilliant to have a new focus. We were gearing up for the county semi final at that stage. I didn’t really have time to dwell on it as the Ballintubber season was just really kicking off. It was good to have something new to look at.”

Having a high-class managerial setup spearheaded by ex Sligo and Galway manager Peter Ford aids their cause.

“Coming out of the Mayo thing, I was able to come into a setup that’s very well organised. Tony Duffy and Peter are the joint managers, there’s serious amount of organization there. We don’t really have to ask for anything, it’s excellent in terms of gear, nutrition, physio and recovery. Having that at club level is a huge boost.”

Peter Ford and Cillian O'Connor celebrate with The Moclair Cup Peter Ford and Cillian O'Connor celebrate the Moclair Cup. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Tomorrow the journey continues. Roscommon’s St Brigid’s come to Castlebar for an AIB Connacht senior club football semi-final. Brigid’s are the kingpins with four Connacht and one All-Ireland crowns to their name.

In Ballintubber there is an eagerness and ambition to perform on the provincial stage.

“I think 2010 was a little bit different after our first title as maybe we didn’t do ourselves justice,” says O’Connor. “In 2011 then we really pushed for it but were beaten in Castlebar by a good Corofin side.

“I missed a one on one myself towards the end of that game. We definitely want to go further and we can take heart from how Castlebar did. But Brigid’s are the team that’s elevated themselves above everyone else in Connacht. It’s a massive test.”

Ballintubber hit nine goals with Cillian O’Connor scoring hat-trick to reach Mayo final

O’Connor brothers help Ballintubber take third Mayo crown after early goal blitz

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