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Gaels have force to become greatest party poopers: O'Connor

 

By Declan Bogue

If Paul O'Connor, Cavan Gaels' hat-trick hero from the Ulster semi-final replay win over Derrygonnelly Harps, ever needed any advice about playing in huge finals then he need only lift the phone and put a call through to Ballintubber.

The rangy attacker is a first cousin of Mayo stars Cillian and Diarmuid O'Connor, who have been central figures in the westerners' quest to land the All-Ireland title in recent years.

His father, Joe, was a Garda who was initially stationed in Cavan. He liked it so much the family made it their home. Joe played with and managed the Gaels himself, always encouraging young Paul to maintain close links with his Connacht cousins.

Asked if he keeps in touch with the boys, Paul laughs: "I do, now and again! They were unfortunate again this year but they will bounce back."

The two brothers have been in Cavan often, doing the rounds of medal presentations for successful underage Cavan Gaels sides, but, according to Paul, aren't too forthcoming with advice.

He adds: "I was born here and lived up here all my life. It is where dad was stationed and he has been here ever since. I have Mayo blood in me, but I am Cavan born and bred.

"The boys tend to keep to themselves, they don't give away too many secrets down there," he notes.

"So it's up to me to focus my own mind on how we approach finals."

And they don't come much bigger than this weekend, when they aim to become the greatest party poopers in the GAA world by trying to derail Slaughtneil's hopes of an historic 'double-treble' of Ulster titles in three codes.

To take on a remorseless winning machine like Slaughtneil, they could have been doing with more than seven days preparation, though there is a school of thought that they are battle-hardened after two tight tussles against the Fermanagh champions.

"We haven't done much thinking about them to be honest. We have taken every game as it comes for us this season," adds O'Connor.

"Derrygonnelly have given us two massive, massive tests and credit to them. They are a fantastic outfit.

"Slaughtneil have shown the team that they are, getting to the All-Ireland final stage last year. They are reigning Ulster champions and they won't want to give that up easy.

"Seven days to get the bodies right, rest and recover and hopefully be in good shape to give it a rattle."

He was the decisive figure in the replay, his aerial ability contributing three goals and setting up a fourth. And still, he is no more than average height, displaying that athleticism is clearly a family trait.

"Some people would say I have a good leap, but that's up to them to say," he laughs.

He won't go as far as to outline what he can do in the gym, especially when it comes to personal bests in box jumps, but his progress onto the county team of late shows a man fastidious in his preparations.

"I work on every aspect of my game to try to improve. But look, I was just on the end of moves, the lads put a lot on a plate for me. Thankfully I was in the right place at the right time."

It has been 40 years since Cavan Gaels made it to an Ulster club final, losing to St John's of Belfast. No Cavan club have ever won a title at this level.

"It doesn't mean a whole lot," states O'Connor by way of rebuke.

"History doesn't mean a lot to me and we don't think much about it as a group of lads. We are delighted to be in an Ulster final and it's where we set out to be.

"We haven't produced in Ulster previously. We have been unlucky on a lot of occasions. This year we got a good draw."

Now to finish the job.

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