The news confirmed earlier on today by Mayo GAA that the injury Cillian O’Connor picked up in the Clare match last Sunday is an Achilles tendon one requiring surgery comes as such a cruel blow.
First and foremost, it’s an enormous setback for Cillian himself. Mercifully free of injury for most of the past year, the Ballintubber man was in the form of his life, playing with a kind of abandon and providing fearsome leadership in a team now peppered with emerging talents.
He must surely have been relishing the upcoming Championship campaign and the opportunity it would afford him to showcase his talents to the full, driving the team to ever higher performance levels. Now, all of a sudden, that’s been taken away from him.
The Mayo GAA statement contained no details about just how bad the injury is. But with surgery required, it’s safe to assume he won’t be back in action any time soon and that his rehab is likely to be measured in months, not weeks. Only a hopeless optimist could refuse to accept the inevitable that, sadly, Cillian’s inter-county year is now over.
For the team, the loss of its talisman is a staggering blow. Losing any player hits hard – and, Lord knows, we’ve been deprived of the services of so many important players at crucial times over the past decade – but Cillian’s loss to the team is simply incalculable.
He brings so much to the table, not just in relation to his scoring rate but also the massive amount of tackling, running, passing and organising he does in the opposition half of the field. Latterly, there’s also been the mentoring of the young guns alongside him up top and it has to be feared that they’ll feel his loss more keenly than most.
As the saying goes, though, there’s no ‘i’ in team. No one player comprises the whole fifteen. As heavy as this blow is, James Horan and his team have no choice but to take it on the chin and re-plan for a Championship campaign that begins in less than two weeks.
The draw helps us in that regard. With all due respect to Sligo and Leitrim, we’ve two matches to sort how we line up this summer – and, don’t forget, we’ve issues other than who replaces Cillian to deal with in that regard – and then, assuming we win those two, we have to give the Connacht final our very best shot.
And that’s all we can, in truth, do. With Cillian on board this summer, we could realistically have expected to retain the Nestor Cup and have a right cut off the Dubs in the All-Ireland semi-final. In his absence, winning Connacht becomes a big enough ask, keeping the ball kicked out to the six-in-a-row champions an even bigger one.
Tonight, though, it doesn’t even seem right to be thinking those kinds of thoughts. Instead, it’s best to focus back on Cillian himself, by thanking him for the huge effort he’s put in for Mayo down the years and by wishing him all the luck in the world on his road to recovery. Get well soon, Cillian.