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Thursday 26 April 2018

O'Connor: Last-minute All-Ireland free still haunts me

Mayo footballer Cillian O'Connor. Picture: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Mayo footballer Cillian O'Connor. Picture: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

WHEN you're stuck in the moment of a nerve-shredding All-Ireland final, hindsight is a wonderfully elusive concept.

If Cillian O'Connor knew now what he didn't realise last September - that the referee's confirmation that "30 seconds" remained did not guarantee one more play and one last-gasp chance of a Mayo equaliser - he would have gone for goal against Dublin.

Instead, the Mayo marksman tapped over his eighth free of the day in the belief that Joe McQuillan would allow play to proceed from the resultant kickout - only for the final whistle to blow as Stephen Cluxton's restart came to ground.

In the wake of that controversy, McQuillan staunchly defended his time-keeping, insisting: "I simply said 'there's 30 seconds left' and that was from the moment he (O'Connor) asked me.

"I said it three times, I'm sure plenty of players heard me ... immediately after the game some Mayo players said to me that 'you said there was going to be another play', but I never said that because there is no such thing as that."

Some two months on, O'Connor admits that the incident still torments him "a little bit" but he doesn't blame McQuillan.

"Again, hindsight is a great thing," reflected the 21-year-old forward. "If I could go back now knowing that the game would be blown from the restart, obviously I would have thrown caution to the wind and tried to go for the goal. But just the way it went, I thought there might be a passage of play.

"My understanding was that there would be another little bit of time and if we had maybe won the kickout and scored an equaliser ... I'm just saying it would have looked like a good decision."

As for the gist of his conversation with the referee, O'Connor recalled: "I just said how long was left and his answer was 30 seconds.

"Then Barry (Moran) shouted how long was left and he said 30 and Donal Vaughan came running in and he said 30, so it (the clock) was obviously rolling all the time and with people in the way and me moving and me steadying and taking my time and doing my routine ... he was including all of that, I wasn't."

He then concluded: "Joe, he didn't do anything wrong either. At the same time you have to remember that there were 13 or 14 people on the line. The game wasn't lost in the last passage."

Only this week, James Horan likened Mayo's latest All-Ireland defeat to being hit by a bus or a train. O'Connor echoed his manager's sentiment, saying: "It eats away at you for a long time and it doesn't really go away.

"It doesn't go away the next day or the next month. It takes a long time to get over and we're still dealing with it but we can't keep looking backwards. It's time now to look ahead."

On that front, the two-time Young Footballer of the Year is targeting a playing comeback in "mid-March or April" after undergoing surgery six weeks ago on the dislocated shoulder that had shrouded his All-Ireland final build-up.

"It was difficult because the club was still in the championship. My shoulder needed urgent treatment so I eventually had the surgery. I started the rehab last week," he revealed.

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