"You want to prove yourself to Kevin and the management when things really heat up now" - O'Connor not getting carried away
There's a buzz in Mayo.
There's always a buzz in Mayo, it should be said, but it feels a little different this time.
The spine of the team is younger, the management is new and the form well, from a League perspective anyway, it's been as good as ever.
Cillian O'Connor hasn't been as active as usual - he's played more games as a sub than as a starter - but he's enjoying the hustle.
From the very first phone call, he's been impressed by Kevin McStay and his new management team and O'Connor says that their open lines of communication have been appreciated by the panel.
"I think almost everybody would have had a conversation with the new management," reveals O'Connor ahead of this weekend's Allianz League final vs Galway.
"Be it on the phone or in person.
"Probably most of them before Christmas, just an introduction and a hello and a half hour chat about plans and yourself and the season and all that.
"I think everybody will have had a chance to hear them out and share their thoughts on where they can try to get better."
They may have worked with Stephen Rochford, Donie Buckley and Liam MacHale before for example, but O'Connor says that the new management team are providing fresh feedback, and helping the players pick up on what may have been 'blind-spots.'
"I don't think there would have been anyone in the group who would have been coached by Kevin before so it's been all new for us and it's good to get fresh perspectives on things," adds O'Connor.
"There might be feedback that you'd pick up from the new lads that you mightn't have got before or maybe some blind spots that you have that they might notice. I've enjoyed those conversations and little things we've been doing in training so yeah, there's been a freshness to the whole thing.
"When there's any change in backroom or management," he adds, "not that you wouldn't be pushing yourself anyways, but there is a novelty or an excitement to it.
"It's about proving yourself all over again and trying to impress new coaches, new selectors and new management and show them that you're able to do what you're being asked in training and you're being coachable and you're taking on their feedback and stuff."
A few niggly injuries and the emergence of young players mean O'Connor has been on the bench more than he's used to and in a role like that, he says it's pivotal to be in the right headspace.
"You kind of get into the same head space as always. You get to the ground, and even if you know you are not playing, you have to go through the proper warm-up. You have to make sure that that is really good and you nail that.
"Then the atmosphere around the ground gets you pumped.
"It’s been different, but at the same time it has been a chance to watch the games from a different vantage point and maybe note one or two things that you might be able to exploit when you get in.
"If you get in. It’s been interesting, but a couple of games I have come on and they have been in the balance, in the melting pot, and it’s good to test yourself about getting up to speed quickly and making right decisions, even if it is your first touch."
The 30-year-old is touch-and-go for this weekend's League final vs Galway, having picked up a slight niggle at the back of his knee, and he says that in a shortened season like this one, it's more important than ever to have the body primed at all times.
"There has always been a focus on it (prehab work), but there is probably a bit more pre-training stuff.
"More focus on the mobility and activation stuff before training.
"If you ran straight into the dressing room and onto the pitch, you’d be on edge for the whole session that you’d tweak something. It’s about prep for training and the usual recovery afterwards."
Saying that, he's keen to stress that there's no sparing each other when they make it onto the field.
"There’s also 36 people trying to get into 15 jerseys so that theory goes out the window.
"That’s the way it has to be. The nature of any sport, you are going to pick up bangs and bruises, lose guys, have to use other guys and it is a case of next man up when that happens."
He's a veteran of the cause in some ways, given that he's been on this panel since he was 18, but while little has changed in terms of his mindset, O'Connor says that he has learned to enjoy it a bit more.
"You kind of get consumed by the season, by each one.
"You get so selfish or inward focused about training, a short term view, session to session.
"So you don't feel the time passing and you don't feel the years passing.
"Maybe one thing might be is that I try to enjoy it a bit more. Just, I suppose, cherish the opportunity and the privilege it is to play, just be mindful of that. It isn't going to go on forever so you have to enjoy it - enjoy the training sessions, enjoy the graft and then hope it comes together in the games."
One last word, one important word from O'Connor's perspective. Yes Mayo have been good, yes they've been winning well, but O'Connor knows that judgement day hasn't yet arrived.
He's determined that they'll be still be top of the pile when it does.
"We're three or four months into the season, everyone has enjoyed the challenge (so far), but it's only ramping up now so time will tell.
"You want to really prove yourself to Kevin and the management when things really heat up now."