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'When I first started watching football in Mayo, Ciaran McDonald was at the height of his career'

Diarmuid O’Connor is excited to learn from the Mayo legend this season.

Ciaran McDonald played in three All-Ireland finals for Mayo.
Ciaran McDonald played in three All-Ireland finals for Mayo.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

THREE OF THE most iconic forwards from the late 1990s and early 2000s were undoubtedly Maurice Fitzgerald, Padraic Joyce and Ciaran McDonald.

The flamboyant attackers lit up the game during their inter-county careers, reaching heights few other players touched before or since.

Fitzgerald scored 12-205 in 58 championship games for Kerry, Joyce hit 28-279 in 66 games for Galway and McDonald posted 13-96 in 39 outings with Mayo.

While all three men were undoubtedly gifted technically, they each possessed a steely edge that came from facing down teak-tough defenders over the years.  

The trio have since taken their knowledge and transitioned into coaching with their native counties.

Fitzgerald has been part of the Kerry coaching set-up since 2017, while Padraic Joyce has taken charge of Galway for the coming season.

Last month it was announced that Mayo legend Ciaran McDonald had been added to James Horan’s backroom team.

The former centre-forward was heavily involved with Mayo developmental squads before he answered the call to join Horan’s senior ranks.

McDonald and Joyce will meet on the sideline on Sunday when their counties face-off in the FBD League semi-final.

For Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor, working alongside McDonald is a dream come true.

“When I first started watching football in Mayo, Ciarán was at the height of his career,” he says.

“It’s great to have him involved now. He’s already done a lot of work in his own club with underage football. Great experience, great knowledge. I’m looking forward to working with him in the year ahead.

“I’ve only joined in with the panel the last week or two so I haven’t worked with him that much. But I’ve already got little nuggets off him.

“Just talking to the other players, you would hear of them getting advice off him. Anywhere he can offer advice he does and it’s great to have him around.

“So far [he's been doing] more one-on-one stuff. He wouldn’t be one of the biggest talkers in the dressing-room so far but that might change as the year goes on.

“I’ve only been there a couple of weeks so I haven’t worked that closely with him yet but I’m looking forward to working with him for the rest of the year.”

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O’Connor was named captain of Mayo last season but endured a difficult campaign with injury.

allianz-football-league-2020-launch Diarmuid O'Connor was in attendance at the Allianz Football League 2020 launch in Dublin. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

He suffered a broken eye socket during training in May before breaking his wrist during the summer which caused him to miss their run through the qualifiers and the entire Super 8s campaign.

“It wasn’t really a goal of mine. I didn’t really expect it – it was a great honour. To be honest, it didn’t change a whole lot for myself.

“I always try to lead on the pitch whether I’m captain or not. Last year I wasn’t able to do that as much as I would have liked. The games I missed, it was a bit frustrating.

“I had a couple of injuries. A fractured eye-socket and a fractured wrist and then a couple of muscular injuries. It was frustrating missing out and not getting a run of games. I was back fit at the end of the year but it was disappointing the way it finished.”

O’Connor returned to the team for the All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin, which Mayo lost by 10 points after a poor second-half showing. 

“Obviously it’s very disappointing getting knocked out of the championship. You just have to park it, learn from it.

“You can’t just completely forget about it, you have to look at what went wrong and why they went wrong. Just taking any learnings you can from it and putting them into practice over the last few weeks, just trying to improve on them for the new season.”

He shut down the notion that Jim Gavin’s departure from Dublin is a boost for their Sam Maguire rivals.

“I don’t know if it is much of a boost or whatever for other counties. If you’re getting a boost of that you’d want to have a look at yourself.

“We’ve too many things to be worrying about ourselves than to be looking at other counties so as I said there’s lots of small areas where we can improve our game. Yeah, just working on ourselves.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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