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“The Biggest Thing Is Free-Taking, Anyone Is A Free-Taker Now”

oconnor advanced mark

Mayo have long been one of the most dominant forces in Gaelic football boasting some of the game’s brightest talents. 

Littered with All-Stars such as Higgins, O’Shea, Keegan and Boyle, it was Diarmuid O’Connor who was handed the captaincy at the tender age of 24 last season.

The two-time Young Footballer of the Year is a firm favourite with the Mayo faithful as shown by the roar that greeted news of his late inclusion in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin.

diarmuid oconnor advanced mark

It’s fair to say his first year as captain was somewhat bittersweet. He became the first Mayo man to lift a national title in 18 years when they defeated Kerry in the Allianz League final. However, he then struggled with injuries that saw him miss most of Mayo’s championship campaign, only returning for that ill-fated semi-final with the Dubs.

Speaking at the Allianz Leagues Launch 2020, the Mayo captain admitted his frustration at missing out on so many games.

diarmuid oconnor advanced mark

“Yeah, it was frustrating, I had a couple of injuries. A fractured eye-socket and a fractured wrist and then a couple of muscular injuries. Yeah, 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 said.

However, upon reflection, the Ballintubber man is able to look back on the beginning of the season with fond memories as Mayo fans celebrated a League title like no other.

“Obviously it’s great to win silverware in Croke Park. It was a special feeling after the game, we seen how much it meant to supporters and just meeting family and friends after the game and seeing how much it meant to people in the county.

diarmuid oconnor advanced mark

“It was a great feeling. Obviously it was disappointing we couldn’t add any more silverware to it for the rest of the year so that’ll be something we’ll be looking to change. Hopefully, we can get the year off to a good start again but build on it this year and taking every game as it comes.

“But it was a great feeling to be up there.”

Time waits for no man though. O’Connor has no interest in discussing the previous five seasons that have seen him become one of the most recognisable faces in Gaelic games.

diarmudi oconnor advanced mark

It’s clear that his and Mayo’s attentions have well and truly turned to 2020 which gets underway this afternoon when they face old rivals Galway in the Connacht FBD League.

While the prize remains the same come the end of the season, there are plenty of changes to think about as the new season gets underway. Not least the advanced mark rule which has divided opinion up and down the country.

Having recently returned to training following an extended break, O’Connor is better equipped than most to give his take on the highly-contentious rule change.

diarmuid oconnor advanced mark

The Ballintubber man admits that Mayo have been working on it in training. However, he gave an interesting insight into the dynamic that the new rule has caused. The fact that everybody now is expected to be able to kick frees and score them

“Yeah we have (worked on it), the biggest thing is the free-taking,” O’Connor said.

“Anyone is a free-taker now. It’s not just one or two, so you’d see lads now before training just practising free-taking themselves because you never know when you might catch a mark and you might have a free to win the game.

diarmuid oconnor advanced mark

“You’d see more lads practising before and after training in their own time. In training, we’d do a small bit, just the kick passing, kicking it on the full rather than just bouncing it into the man. Obviously, just working and trying to be one of the best counties giving it.

When pressed on the new rule and how it might change the game, O’Connor was coy in his response claiming it is too early to discuss how successful it might be.

“It’s early days yet, only time will tell how much it will change the game. The league last year didn’t change too much but I think now the players know it’s in for Championship, they’ll be more of an emphasis on it and more practice put in, more talk about it so yeah I suppose only time will tell how much it’ll change the game.”

Author: Michael Corry

Sports Journalist born in Armagh, based in Dublin. Interested in feature writing and listening to unique, engaging stories. Up for the craic too. Email: Twitter: @MickCorryPA Instagram: @Corry_10

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