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Cillian O'Connor keen to end Mayo's 69 years of hurt with upset victory over Dublin

Free-scoring ace determined to fire his side to All-Ireland joy


Red hot: Cillian O’Connor can help Mayo defeat the mighty Dublin in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park

Red hot: Cillian O’Connor can help Mayo defeat the mighty Dublin in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park

�INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Red hot: Cillian O’Connor can help Mayo defeat the mighty Dublin in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park

Just as has been the case with many people throughout the island, life has undergone a dramatic transformation for Mayo scoring ace Cillian O'Connor.

The 28-year-old schoolteacher has come from a position of accepting that there might not be a ball kicked in the All-Ireland Championship to finding himself on the cusp of playing a vital role in his county's bid to end a 69-year wait for the Sam Maguire Cup at Croke Park today (5pm).

As Mayo's perennial leading scorer, O'Connor is rarely out of the limelight yet his easy-going, affable demeanour hints at a player who is comfortable within himself as his feet continue to rest firmly on the ground.

If the uncertainty that plagued the GAA world, just as it did other sectors of society, suggested that 2020 would become a non-event in a sporting context then the complete opposite has overtaken Mayo.

A restructured team that now incorporates a fistful of fiercely ambitious newcomers, the revitalised James Horan thriving in his second term in charge and the goodwill of what must surely be one of the most patient fan bases in global sport have combined to once again leave the Western County just 70-plus minutes away from entering a dream world.

Dublin - who else? - once again loom on the horizon, their appetite far from sated by five consecutive All-Ireland coups.

Having lost to the Dubs by a solitary point in both the 2016 and 2017 deciders, Mayo's gnawing desire to take their seat on the All-Ireland throne has become almost unbearable.

Yet for someone very much in the eye of the storm and for whom disappointment in the green and red jersey has become a way of life in an All-Ireland context, O'Connor remains cool, calm and collected.

"We didn't think at one stage we were going to have a season at all yet here we are again in another All-Ireland final and just raring to go," he smiled.

"We have to be thankful, haven't we? It's great to be going into this decider. Dublin will be extremely tough opponents."

O'Connor's personal contribution of 4-9 to Mayo's 5-20 total against Tipperary - he had amassed 3-6 by the interval - is undoubtedly the scoring feat of the year, yet he played down his five-star show with typical modesty.

"The chances were created by lads driving through from the back. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time but it could have been anybody," reflected O'Connor.

"During the course of the break we had in the inter-county season, a lot of players put their hands up at club level for recognition in the county sphere and now they are getting the chance to do the business."

But O'Connor is adamant that Mayo will have to show a big improvement on their second-half performance against Tipperary if they are to triumph.

"Anyone who watched that second half will know that we have a lot of improving to do. Obviously we have been working on aspects of our play over the course of the past fortnight and hopefully this will be seen to good effect this time round," he stated.

In what has been an abbreviated Championship 'season', the turbo-charged O'Connor has helped himself to a majestic 5-31 - a total which many players would be proud to land in their entire inter-county careers.

In beating Leitrim, Roscommon, Galway and Tipperary, it could be said that Mayo played true to form - in other words mixing the sublime with the ridiculous and occasionally revelling in making things hard for themselves.

Yet the faith of their devoted followers never wavers, nor indeed does the desire of the players to come good on the biggest stage of all ever falter.

The pragmatic O'Connor is in no doubt whatsoever as to just what Mayo must do tonight in the chilling emptiness of Croke Park - fans are not permitted under current Covid-19 restrictions.

"We will just have to make sure that we keep our focus at all times because this is going to be a massive game for us no matter what way you look at it," he insisted. "At the same time we have to recognise how lucky we are to be playing in an All-Ireland final after the kind of year which the whole country has endured."

Belfast Telegraph