"I've always said it about Diarmuid O'Connor, the man must have a third lung' 1 year ago

"I've always said it about Diarmuid O'Connor, the man must have a third lung'

Martin Finnerty tells a story about Diarmuid O'Connor.

It was an underage game in the back arse of Belmullet and O'Connor was on one leg. He'd shipped a few unmerciful hits like he always did and like he always does, and with his hamstrings cramping and his limbs seizing up, he was panned out on the earth.

Just like he was that time in Newbridge.

His race was run, surely. His legs wouldn't hold him up anymore, how could he possibly go again?

Finnerty was O'Connor's coach that day and he told his star midfielder to finish off the game in the inside forward line. If he was able. O'Connor went in for a minute but he just couldn't stay in.

Because just like that time in Newbridge, no sooner was O'Connor back on his feet as he was down the opposite end of the field. In the thick of it again.

Racing, galloping, hitting hard and getting hit harder. And then going for more again. And again.

Ballintubber man Martin Finnerty coached Diamuid O'Connor from the age of eight to eighteen and he knows more than most of us about DOC but he still doesn't know what sort of hit or what sort of knock it would require to take him out of a game.

"You would not beat him," says Finnerty over the phone in that thick, west of Ireland accent.

He carried Ballintubber underage teams from eight to eighteen. Finnerty has no problems in admitting that, without the roving O'Connor in midfield, the Tubber would probably have been down in the second division up along.

"He stood out even then," says Finnerty of the young O'Connor, only a juvenile yet.

"Diarmuid always had it. As a youngster playing underage for us, he'd win games on his own. We were Division One the whole way up along, but if we didn't have Diarmuid, I'll tell you one thing, we'd have had to drop down a division."

It had to be midfield though. Finnerty never gave him a jersey that hadn't number eight on its back.

"I never had him any other number bar number eight. The county played him wing back and wing forward and I just never understood it"

Why would a man with a lung more than everybody else not be in the engine room?

"I've always said it about Diarmuid, the man must have a third lung. He must have because even when he was eight, even when he was 12, he'd just stay going, he wouldn't stop, he just couldn't stop."

And it was the same every single day in the red and white of his club. O'Connor plays a stormer and he lifts his teammates and carries them along with him.

He was always the main man, he was always the man who'd come up with something and who his teammates could rely on to come up with something to win games.

"He never ever had a bad game for us. He'd rack up big scores but at the same time, he was the ultimate team player. If there was ever a time when there was a lad in a better position than him, he'd always pass the ball across, he wouldn't be into the glory himself," said Finnerty.

A natural athlete that could take loads of punishment, O'Connor knows nothing other than graft and hard-work. He loves being in the thick of it.

"He was an incredible athlete back when he was a young lad, he was just born with that. It seemed to come naturally to him to just be able to stay going. He goes through the pain barrier, like he's an animal."

"I've been preaching about Diarmuid for ages, he just has something special, he's a different kind of animal," said his club man.

An animal on the field, an unassuming, quiet and sound lad off it. If there were ever raffle tickets to be sold in Ballintubber - Diarmuid, along with his brother Cillian were always the first lads to chip in.

Ross Munnelly was O'Connor's fresher manager in DCU and the Mayo man was a manager's dream there too.

No airs and graces, a willingness to work hard and a leader by example, Munnelly felt blessed. At the same time though, the quiet-spoken O'Connor was always a bit of craic too.

But if club and college training clashed, O'Connor was always son the M4 to Mayo, on the road to Ballintubber.

"He's a very enjoyable man to have a conversation with, he'd always tell you how things were going with the club at home and with the county," recalls Munnelly "I remember he used to lay out his training for the week and he'd always put the club first, he was heading down to Ballintubber and that was that..."

A Ballintubber man.

After a few more trojan performances where at times he's resembled a character out of Platoon, rather than just a gaelic footballer, the midfield virtuoso has brought his club with him back to another county final.

Just like in Newbridge, O'Connor is ready to go again.

Updated:

O'Connor kicks a late, great winner as Ballintubber win their second county title in three years.