O’connor talks college and sport: inseparable or impossible?

Having picked up the Young Player of the Year award the past two years in a row, O’Connor starred in Mayo’s defeat to resurgent Dublin in last weekend’s League semi-final. Not content with excelling on the pitch, O’Connor is in his final year in a demanding course; Primary Education in St. Patrick’s College Drumcondra. Somewhere between college and sport, he’s even found the time to throw his hat in the ring for the upcoming Student Union elections as a vice-Presidential candidate. I’d just like to thank him for taking the time out to speak to Campus.

Between club, county and college how many hours of training/matches do you play, on average, per week?

It varies but I would say that at the height of the football season I would be doing 3 days a week with the county and 1 or 2 with the college. Then there are 2 or 3 hours of individual fitness or skills work so probably between 8 and 10 hours weekly. I enjoy it though and wouldn’t do it if I didn’t.

Obviously there’s no greater honor than playing for your county, but have you ever felt that the time commitment has affected your college work?

It is great to get the opportunity to play at a high level and one that I am very lucky to have. It can be time consuming but I also think it helps one to practice discipline and organisational skills. Sport requires dedication, focus and hard work and I think these skills help on the academic side of things too.

In your opinion, is it important for college students to get involved in sport, whatever their ability?

Well everybody has their own interests, whether it is sport, music, travelling and so on and yes, I think it’s healthy for students to have something outside of college that they enjoy and can invest time in. As for sport, I think it’s a great opportunity for people to get active, to meet people and to make new friends and of course, it’s a brilliant way of staying fit and healthy.

You’ve won the Trench Cup, county championships and provincial titles with club, county and college, what in your opinion has been your greatest achievement?

It’s hard to pick one day. There have been some good ones and of course, some terribly disappointing ones! Winning with your classmates and friends in college was great as was being part of successful, close-knit teams in Ballintubber and Mayo. The achievement that gave me most satisfaction to date was probably winning the Mayo Club Championship for the first time in 2010. It was the 100th year anniversary of the club, we were not very fancied going into the championship that year and I was playing with my mates that I’d known since I was 5 or 6. So the scenes after that game will stay with me for a long time.

In what ways do you strike the balance between sport and college commitments?

It can be difficult at times but as a full time student my studies have to take priority. Thankfully the management teams that I’ve worked with up to now understand this and have been very accommodating whenever I’ve had to choose to spend time with college work over training or matches. As I said earlier, I think that some of the skills needed for sport can be useful on an academic level too and for me, sport can offer a healthy release from the books sometimes too.

So it can be done… Just. Sport, just like any social activity, is as important as your education. It’s about prioritisation, knowing when to take the foot off one pedal and slam down on the other.