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Dublin: 6 °C Wednesday 8 April, 2020
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The rivalry with Galway, teaching Mayo's young fans and sport psychology tips

The Mayo attacking talisman is set for Sunday’s Connacht semi-final.

Cillian O'Connor at the 2017 Eir GAA football championship launch.
Cillian O'Connor at the 2017 Eir GAA football championship launch.
Image: Cody Glenn/SPORTSFILE

CILLIAN O’CONNOR HAS a vivid memory of those championship Sundays, summer journeys in his youth when Galway and Mayo were the only show in town.

“It was huge. I’ve cousins in Galway and friends in Galway. I’ve uncles and family there so we’d always be going to games whether it be in Tuam or Salthill.

“I can still see it now the parade or the ice cream vans. They were always big occasions for the family to get together and for everyone to go up and watch that rivalry through the 90′s and early 00′s. It’s cool to be part of it now.”

The Mayo captain has had plenty exposure on the pitch to battles between the counties. Since he burst onto the scene in 2011, fresh out of the minor ranks, there has only been a single season (2012) when their paths did not cross in Connacht.

And until last summer, he was the proud owner of an unblemished record. That championship loss in Castlebar was his first out west as a Mayo senior.

Something to think about before the teams renew acquaintances in Salthill on Sunday.

“I’d say traditionally they used to bring the best out of each other. As long as I’m watching games, there’s rarely very much between the teams.

“Galway have had a good league campaign, the U21′s have had a good run as well so they’re Connacht champions at two grades. You’d hope that jersey will bring the best out of us.

“I do know as a group when we were successful, we were still really, really hungry to win Nestor Cups. There was never anyone slacking off.

“Maybe the defeat last year on the 18th of June, maybe it has added a little edge to our preparation.

“It’s hard to say for sure. What I know is our group are really hungry for the opportunity to get into a Connacht final again.”

Cillian O'Connor celebrates setting up a goal for Lee Keegan Cillian O'Connor celebrates during Mayo's 2014 Connacht final win. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

O’Connor is a good judge of the effect Mayo football has on the next generation in the county.

For his second class pupils in Castlebar, every day is a chance to be starstruck by Mayo’s attacking talisman.

“The novelty wears off quicker than you’d think, when you’re giving them more maths questions to do,” laughs O’Connor.

“They get pretty fed up with me after a while! There’s that bit of craic and bit of slagging.

“I’ve met a few of them on the field after the games in Castlebar. It’s good fun. I enjoy that side of it too.”

Mention of post-match interaction with Mayo fans raises a subject that sparked a debate of late.

For O’Connor there is no decision to be made when pitch invasions take place. It’s not too long ago he was a young supporter looking for some attention from a player.

“It’s the same in a school if you’re teaching and you have the chance to sign a jersey or get a picture taken with a supporter, it’s not a big deal,

“It’s not going to upset me for the day if I’ve to wait and sign a jersey. Sure I’ve vivid memories of running up to Mayo players myself before the final whistle has even gone, legging it on to get jerseys signed myself or get footballs signed.

“There’s one or two of them still on the senior panel at the moment actually! I can remember asking for their jersey after championship games.

“They were always kind enough to oblige me, so I’m not going to be any different. Those boys will be the lads playing for Mayo in a few years so why not give them a bit of time?”

Teaching is his day job at the moment after completing his studies in St Pat’s Drumcondra in Dublin.

But he did journey to Belfast for a year, taking some time in Jordanstown to look closer at a subject that intrigues the Ballintubber man.

“I was up there for a year, (doing) sport and exercise psychology. It’s kind of something I got interested in back (when) we did some with our club in 2009 and 2010.

“I found it was just something that I’d never really seen before. It was all new. I said it was something if the opportunity came up, I’d like to study a bit more and find out a bit more about.”

He’s picked up some tips of assistance for his commitments with Mayo.

“It didn’t change 100% what I do or anything like that but there’s definitely different things that you pick up over the course of different modules, that were on about different strategies, mental preparation for games, different training or techniques for reflecting on your performance.

“When I did it, it was just something wanted to do to find a bit more out about. I never really had a definite idea where it would take me or anything like that.

“I’m a teacher by trade. It was something more so to help me with my own football and see what I thought of it and I enjoyed it.

“It could well be maybe in the future something I study more but I feel like I just scratched the surface.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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