MAYO FORWARD RYAN O’Donoghue says he’s excited to accept the challenge of becoming a key feature in the forward line as they continue their championship without Cillian O’Connor.

Mayo’s Ryan O’Donoghue.

Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

O’Connor is a major absentee for James Horan’s side after suffering an Achilles tendon injury which required a procedure. The veteran star made his 100th appearance for the Green and Red county earlier this year, but was on crutches for their Connacht SFC win over Sligo at the weekend.

Mayo’s forwards racked up an impressive tally in Markievicz Park, with Aidan O’Shea slotting 2-2 while Darren McHale [1-5], and O’Donoghue [0-5,4f] were also prolific.

O’Donoghue said it was unfortunate to lose O’Connor at such a crucial stage in the season, but is ready to deputise and make an impact for Mayo.

“It’s not ideal him getting injured but it gives the opportunity to other players to step up and look, Darren McHale came in. There’s a possibility he wouldn’t be playing if Cillian was there.

“So, I’m delighted to see him take his opportunity and score. That’s what we have to do. The six of us pulled together and put in a pretty good performance. So, we’re happy with how it went.

“Cillian sent me a voice note on Saturday morning, wishing me well and telling me to stick with my routine, that nothing changes, and it’s the same if you’re practising or in a championship game.

“He has helped me, and gave me a lot of confidence on that Saturday morning.

O’Donoghue is also taking over from O’Connor on free-taking duties, a job which he has plenty of experience with having performed the role with his club and at underage level with Mayo.

“I’ve done it for my club Belmullet and I did it for the minors in 2016 so it’s something I’m comfortable with and happy to take on the responsibility if I can keep proving to James that I’m well able to do it.

“When I get that added responsibility, I love the pressure of it and it lights that fire in my belly. I don’t always need it to play well but I definitely don’t shy away from it and I’m well comfortable with it.

“Getting responsibility to take frees thankfully doesn’t phase me and I just get on with it.

“It’s a credit to the dressing room from the older lads, because they let us voice our opinions and lead us. Going into it, I was thinking it would be hard to be a leader in that dressing room with all the older lads. But they were so open and welcoming and wanted us to be leaders.”

O’Donoghue is among the cohort of U20 stars who have progressed to the senior squad after appearing in the All-Ireland final against Kildare in 2018.

Jordan Flynn and Tommy Conroy were also on that team that lost out to the Lilywhites by two points in Croke Park.

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O’Donoghue, who is now into his second season with the Mayo senior panel, feels that the physicality of top-tier football is the biggest adjustment for him.

“Athletic-wise, that’s the biggest step-up. Obviously you have your skills the whole way through and if you’re skillfully good enough, you’ll always have it but definitely the physical demands of it is where the inter-county senior level really stands out.

“I’m seeing the benefits of learning last year, of not bringing the ball into the tackle. The physical demands are very high at this level so I definitely learned a lot and always learned a lot off the older lads.

“He’s [Horan] given us the chance but we had to earn that chance. It’s not about what age you are or who you are, it’s if you’re putting in the work and playing well. Us, the younger lads, we earned our chance and we took it.

“We’ve just gone from there really and haven’t looked back. That was one of my goals for the season, I didn’t want to just be a one-season wonder. I wanted to push on this year and so far I’ve done that.”

AIB, proud sponsors of both club and county, today celebrated the return of the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship this summer. Ryan O’Donoghue was on hand for the launch.

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