Cillian O’Connor’s absence for the beginning on this year’s Allianz League gives James Horan the chance to try and blood some fresh faces into the Mayo squad ahead of a huge 2019 campaign.
Brian Reape and Conor Diskin have been granted their first league start this weekend against Roscommon, whilst O’Connor recovers from knee surgery, but the Ballintubber man maintains he is excited about the emerging talent in Mayo.
“It is brilliant, the young fellas coming in a lot of them are pulling up trees.” O’Connor said.
“They are really looking for every sort of angle to improve themselves and that eagerness is infectious. It is rubbing off on older boys to start looking for those tiny ways to improve, be it training, mental game, sleep, eating, all that so it has added something in the last few weeks.
“It is exciting seeing these fellas because you see yourself in them a few years ago. I don’t know the word for it, but it is exciting.”
After back-to-back All-Ireland final appearances, Mayo exited the Championship early in 2018. However, O’Connor believes their early exit won’t necessarily mean a change of approach. As far as he is concerned, it will be business, as usual, heading into their Division One campaign.
“I don’t know about the approach, maybe you have more time to get a bank of work done as soon as you are allowed onwards.
“You probably get more work done, but in terms of winning games I don’t think it is going to change the approach a whole lot. You want to win all the games you play, but maybe you might be that bit fitter earlier.”
The one silver-lining of Mayo’s qualifier defeat to Kildare was that it gave the players a chance to go back to their club’s for an extended period. Something which was not afforded to them in previous seasons.
For O’Connor, the return to club actioned proved fruitful as he finished 2018 with a county championship.
“It was a disappointing finish to go out so early in the summer. Luckily enough for myself our club were very busy in the League and we were going quite well. We had a new manager, we had a couple of young lads breaking into the team so there was a bit of excitement in the club during the summer to distract me and to throw myself into.
“Luckily we went on a bit of a run with the club and it had been a few years since I had an extended period training week in, week out with my club mates and friends. So it was nice to feel part of that again fully.
“You drift a small bit when you are playing with Mayo so it was nice to get to know them properly having the full summer training to come up with a system or a plan to try to win the county.”