Padden says Mayo need fully-fit Cillian O'Connor
FORMER Mayo ace Billy Joe Padden says his native county needs a fully-fit Cillian O'Connor in their ranks if they are to prolong their stranglehold on the Connacht Senior Football Championship.
The Heather County have won the last four JJ Nestor Cups and take on an ever-improving Galway side in this weekend's semi-final clash at Pearse Stadium.
O'Connor played in just two of the county's Allianz National League games but missed the last three matches against Dublin, Cork and Donegal with a recurring knee injury. Without the former Young Player of the Year, Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly's side picked up just three points from five League games. With him, they had a 100 per cent record.
"Apart from Alan [Dillon] and Andy [Moran], most of the Mayo players are still in their prime," said Padden.
"A big concern for me is that Cillian O'Connor hasn't played much football this year.
"Like Ciaran McDonald, he's a very gifted footballer. He does all the simple things extremely well and that's why he's such a great player.
"I think they need Cillian to win a Connacht Championship. Maybe that wasn't the case two or three years ago but now when you look at Roscommon and Galway improve so much and are trying really hard to knock Mayo off their pedestal."
The Belmullet native, who is part of Stevie McDonnell's Armagh U21 management team, believes without the services of O'Connor, this could be the year that another promising Connacht side - Roscommon - clinch provincial silverware for the first time since 2010.
"They have excellent underage structures and people don't realise just how small a population Roscommon has," he said.
"They would have been very disappointed not to get to an U21 All-Ireland final. But if you can bring along a few exceptionally talented young players into the senior team and add them to the likes of Senan Kilbride, McDermott and Donie Shine you have a real good team.
"And their strength seems to be in the forward area of the field - they get plenty of goals.
"And when you get to Croke Park, good forwards become more important and in those wide open spaces you never know what could happen."
On the issue of ‘sledging', the Carrickcruppen man says the referee has too much on his plate to police the issue but believes linesmen and umpires can help stamp out the growing problem.
“No-one has ever said anything very personal to me. Nobody ever called me fat, even though I probably was carrying some weight.
"Then again, I presume it's difficult for key players like Kevin McLoughlin or Michael Murphy who have maybe been identified as being key components in beating a team.
"I think there is a lot being asked of the referee [to stamp out sledging]. I feel the umpires and linesmen can do a bit more about it.
"I think it would be worth giving two referees per match a go. It would definitely give defenders something to think about because there is so much more physical contact.
"When there's a free out the field, a defender has a hold of the forward. That's a foul for me. Until referees start giving those frees it's not going to get any better."