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24th Jan 2024

“What he would have done away from the lights is superhuman stuff, that nobody will probably ever know”

Niall McIntyre

Cillian O’Connor has hailed Mayo’s recently retired trio of Jason Doherty, Kevin McLoughlin and Brendan Harrison.

All three players retired after Mayo’s defeat to Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland senior football quarter final and O’Connor, their long-time team-mate, has described them as ‘three unbelievable servants to Mayo football.’

O’Connor saved some special praise for Harrison, the 2016 All-Star corner back, who he says did some ‘superhuman stuff’ to make it onto the field in recent years.

Having played on the same underage team as Harrison, O’Connor knows him well and is well aware of the injury hell he experienced since 2020, which saw him restricted him to just six League and one championship appearance in his last three years on the panel.

The Aghamore club-man’s injury woes began in 2020 with a knee injury that continued to persist until 2022, when he suffered a cruciate ligament tear.

“Brendan and me would have came through the same underage teams and would have been fairly close,” says O’Connor.

“He was an absolute nightmare to mark in training for years and years.”

“What he would have done away from the lights and away from match-day and the media, in terms of getting his body right, particularly for the last few seasons, is superhuman stuff that nobody will probably ever know,” said O’Connor.

On the back of his retirement, Harrison said in an Irish Independent interview that he’d met his knee surgeon Ray Moran ‘too many times,’ all in the name of getting back on the field for Mayo. The knee flared up again this off-season and that convinced him to call it a day at 31.

“I remember the surgeon saying if this was a professional contract, you’d have a big black mark beside your name,” he told the Independent.

“But I was so determined to come back.”

O’Connor says that the departure of the three lads opens the door for the younger players in the squad, who he says are still on a ‘learning curve.’

“You don’t consciously decide that you’re going to force conversations with lads, but it probably does happen naturally in the dressing room that you find yourself chatting with younger players.

“Almost everyone you sit beside is a younger player now!

“You do strike up those kind of conversations. If we lose a training game and we’re sitting beside each other we’re pissed off. Yeah we would have had a few chats after the [London] match.”

Mayo’s loss to London in the Connacht FBD League was a disappointing part of their pre-season but O’Connor is confident their younger players will bounce back.

“A lot of our players, it might have been their first time representing Mayo… it’s all part of a learning curve.

“Obviously we were very disappointed not to have won the game but it’s the same as anything, we reviewed it, management facilitated a review, went through it and we know certain parts weren’t good enough.”

Having suffered some injuries in 2023, O’Connor is excited for the coming year, which begins with a clash with Galway this Sunday in Pearse Stadium. Still based up in Dublin, where he works in recruitment, the Ballintubber man says that opportunity to occasionally work from home has made the situation much easier from a commuting perspective.

“I’m based in Dublin predominantly but depending on training, I can spend time in Mayo as well so that’s a bit of a balancing act, but with the notice you get and the planning, you can mitigate the planning and the effects on the body.”

“There are a few lads who are studying up there so depending on their schedule they might have lectures off of a Friday and be able to be at home when we’re training then.”

“It depends on the player and the situation but the logistics in the group is well managed by the management.

“Every line of work has a bit more flexibility than three or four years ago,” he says.

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