'Sharing nuggets of information with everyone as always' - O'Connor still contributing to Mayo

Stephen Coen says the star forward is helping the team out during his injury layoff.

MAYO’S STEPHEN COEN says star forward Cillian O’Connor is still making a contribution to the squad despite his enforced absence through injury.

gaa-all-ireland-senior-football-championship-launch Mayo's Stephen Coen. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

James Horan’s side suffered the major blow just 10 days before their Connacht championship quarter-final, when it was revealed that O’Connor had suffered an Achilles tendon injury which required surgery.

Despite O’Connor’s loss in the Mayo forward line, they have managed to progress to the All-Ireland semi-final stages of a knockout championship.

Their performance against Galway was particularly impressive as they outgunned their rivals in the second half of the Connacht final at Croke Park. Ryan O’Donoghue, who has assumed the free-taking duties in O’Connor’s absence, finished with a tally of 1-3 including a penalty.

Tommy Conroy and Darren McHale — the other two players on the inside forward line — combined for 0-4 as Mayo came away with a six-point victory.

“I suppose if you were to ask Cillian, even if he was playing and someone else was injured, someone’s loss is someone else’s gain I suppose,” Coen says about how Mayo have readjusted to maintain their high standards while O’Connor is sidelined.

“I suppose the depth of our squad has shown in the last three or four games, we just need to move on regardless of who we lose or what happens throughout the season. There’s a lot of ambitious guys within the group, it’s a very competitive group, so we just keep pushing each other all the way.

“There’s plenty of competition in the forward line for places, supported by our defence and our attack as well. Just need to keep sticking to the system, sticking to the game plan and regardless of who is in or out we just keep ploughing on. We’ve been happy enough so far.”

When speaking to the media last month, O’Donoghue explained that O’Connor sent a voice note to him on the morning of their Connacht SFC clash with Sligo. In his message, O’Connor urged the newcomer to “stick to his routine” while kicking his frees.

Elaborating on the kind of role that O’Connor plays in the Mayo camp during his injury layoff, Coen adds:

“Ah super, yeah, brilliant, everything he can do he’s been doing, sharing nuggets of information with everyone, as he always does whether he’s playing or not. He’s a real leader, a guy of the highest integrity so he’s always going to contribute to the group, regardless of whether he’s playing or not. That doesn’t change.”

stephen-coen-and-paddy-durcan-celebrate-at-the-final-whistle Coen celebrates with Paddy Durcan after Mayo's win in the Connacht final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Coen comes from a hard-working farming family who run a suckler and sheep farm. The Hollymount/Carramore defender, who plays a key role in the busy family enterprise, is also completing a PhD with Teagasc and University College Dublin.

In an interview with Agriland last year, Coen spoke about how his research focuses on the area of bovine nutrition and reproduction.

Balancing his time between farming duties and representing Mayo is a tricky challenge, but Coen keeps all the plates spinning with the support of his father and brother.

“It’s probably similar in that the way our system works at home is that spring time is really, really busy. So from, like, middle of January to the middle of April, it worked out really well that the Championship finished in the middle of December and then we didn’t go back until whenever it was, middle of April or May, I’m not sure when it was, so it actually worked out perfect.

“During the summer, for suckler and sheep farming, it’s literally just let the animals grow and let them develop as much as possible. To be honest, it’s been ideal.

“I’ve been at home, my father’s been at home, we’ve managed it pretty well. My brother is only an hour away so between the three of us we work through it.

“Again, for the weekends and stuff, that’s when we get most of our work done because the three of us work during the week, and obviously I get allowances because of games and stuff but yeah, we make it work all the time, it’s fairly straightforward.”

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Mayo’s All-Ireland semi-final on Saturday brings them into battle against familiar opposition. They’ve endured plenty of championship heartache at the hands of Dublin over the last decade, including a five-point loss in last year’s All-Ireland final.

Another chapter of their epic rivalry beckons this weekend.

Coen insists that Mayo don’t revisit the previous clashes between the sides and stresses the importance of focusing on the present.

“Looking back on previous games, there might be differences in personnel so it mightn’t be the wisest thing to do. What we try to do ourselves is improve ourselves as much as possible, focus a little bit on opposition and focus on the here and now and how things are performing at the minute.

“There are plenty of elements of our game that we want to improve on and that we feel we have improved on and focused on throughout the year.

“Again, I suppose it sounds very basic but just score a bit more and concede a bit less, it’s fairly basic. I think we’ve developed right throughout the year. There are certain areas of the field that we want to work on and we have.

“We’ll hopefully see the fruits of it now on Saturday.”

Stephen Coen was speaking at the launch of the All-Ireland senior football championship.

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