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Alan Dillon Put Cillian O'Connor Through Baptism Of Fire As Mayo's Free-Taker

Alan Dillon Put Cillian O'Connor Through Baptism Of Fire As Mayo's Free-Taker
By Arthur James O'Dea Updated

Second only to Colm Cooper in the football championship's top scorers, 25-year old Cillian O'Connor will almost certainly chase down the 42 point deficit with Mayo in the coming years.

Although the Ballintubber man will relish the prospect of more All-Ireland finals in years to come, Mayo's difficult route to the 2017 final is one O'Connor would surely not wish to replicate - even if the additional games have unquestionably aided his scoring tally.

Free-kicks also play a significant role in O'Connor's impressive tally. Having tasted both the best and worst of what this role can bring, O'Connor revealed to Second Captains the funny story about how he came to be Mayo's primary free-taker.

Since the emergence of O'Connor in the Mayo set up, he has rarely been afraid to step up for free-taking duty. Incredibly, according to O'Connor himself, he wasn't even a free-taker until he was about 16.

Describing how he got the bug for it, the Mayo man recalled an underage county final that seemed "huge" at the time:

I remember there was a big free to be taken ... and I was like, will I, won't I? I said I won't and threw the ball to someone else who never took frees and he missed.

I was absolutely cut to pieces for about eight months, and I remember thinking, if anyone is going to miss, I'm going to miss.

Acknowledging the touch of fear that had overtaken him, O'Connor's resilience - and in turn, his confidence - grew.

A few years on, when O'Connor had his sights on the Mayo senior panel, a plan was put together in his head. Ahead of the 2011 Connacht final, O'Connor figured that if he started showing himself to be a decisive free-taker in training, "it might be kind of a short cut onto the team."

One person he didn't keep in mind was Alan Dillon, Mayo's free-taker at the time.

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After asking Mayo's manager, James Horan, if he could take the frees in the last session before the final, Horan agreed that both O'Connor and Dillon - teammates in the A vs B - could split the free-taking for the night:

It was a really, really windy, crappy day in Castlebar, with the wind going straight down the field. James told "Dillo" that we are taking the frees for one half each here.

Well, I said 'which half will I take them for?' Dillon ran over to where the coin toss was going on, saw which way the wind was blowing, came back to this eighteen-year old here, 20 years his junior, and goes, 'ah, ya, I'll take them for the first half'.

O'Connor didn't factor in everything then it seems. It all ended well enough for the Mayo man anyway.

See Also: "You'll Have One?" - Martin Sheen Won't Forget His Visit To "Páidí Ó Sé's"

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