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O'Connor brothers in arms are setting highest standards

By Declan Bogue

One of the overlooked statistics from this year's All-Ireland final is how the Gaelic Football Young Player of the Year title has resided in one Ballintubber household for four of the last six seasons.

Cillian O'Connor shot across his debut season of 2011 like a comet, his clubmate James Horan having no hesitation in granting the teenager one of the leading roles in his new Mayo side as they reached the All-Ireland semi-final, knocking out then-champions Cork at the quarter-final stage.

In 2013, '14 and '15 he finished the highest scorer in the Championship. In the last of those years his younger brother Diarmuid was on the team and took the Young Player of the Year Award, following it up again last season.

Now, Diarmuid is what passes for a seasoned veteran, heading into his third All-Ireland final, going through what is by his own admission a patchy run of form.

"Individually inconsistent would probably be the big word, no more than the team performance," he draws the parallels prior to tomorrow's showpiece.

"(It's been) kinda up and down, hasn't been as consistent as I would have liked. After every game I review my own performance no more than the team's performance and just see what I can improve for the next game, just forget about the game and work on whatever I can improve on."

The question remains whether too much is expected from players who are still eligible to win the Young Player gong, especially one that was caught up with an under-21 campaign earlier this season.

"Some games I've been inconsistent for whatever reason. I can't put my finger on why," he ventures.

"It's the same with a lot of players early on, no one would have put their hand up and played the best they can play. I don't think it has changed since. There are always bits that we can improve on. I'll be looking at what I can improve on for the final."

Another startling aspect is that Ciaran Kilkenny never picked up that particular gong. Either side of the O'Connors' domination of the award, Kilkenny's team mate Jack McCaffrey and Donegal's Ryan McHugh picked up the honour in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

O'Connor and Kilkenny will be in close proximity tomorrow, fulfilling a similar role, with the Castleknock man recalling his career moving along in the blink of an eye.

"I suppose it only feels like yesterday when I was starting my first game for Dublin against Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final when they beat us, that was five years ago. I was only 18, 19 at the time, I am now 24, it feels like it just went like a click of the fingers," he reminisces.

"So you just have to appreciate it, appreciate as much as you can and just be thankful for the people who got you there in the first place, people in the club, your mentors, your parents, just be so grateful to them.

"And just enjoy it as much as you can, embrace it all, embrace the preparation, the build-up to this game with a smile because in a couple of years' time, I won't be able to play any football anymore, I will be too old."

Earmarked from a young age as players who will carry the standard for the next decade, both will be central figures in tomorrow's drama - young men with a lot of responsibility.

Belfast Telegraph

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