At just 22 years old, DCU student Diarmuid O’Connor has experienced sporting achievements of which most young GAA players could only dream.
Playing with the Mayo senior football team since 2014, he has won an All-Ireland minor title in 2013, a Sigerson Cup in 2014, an All-Ireland under-21 title in 2016, played in two All-Ireland Senior Football Finals and was voted Young Player of the Year for 2015/16. Diarmuid has achieved all of this success whilst also maintaining high academic standards to progress to the final year of his PE and Mathematics course in DCU. In this interview, he describes how DCU’s Sports Academy has supported his development.
How has the DCU Sports Academy helped you to develop as a player and to balance academic life with performing at the highest levels in sport?
In first year, I was offered a place on campus in a house living mostly with other GAA players. It really reduced the stress of looking for accommodation and it was great to live with other people with the same interests. My friends from my course had a different lifestyle, I didn’t get to socialise as much but living in the house made it easier, I wasn’t on my own.
The sports scholarship really helped with my fees and accommodation but it also helped in other ways such as access to physios and the pool for recovery. We also had nutritionist talks about what to eat and the importance of sleep, something that I possibly didn’t always get enough of!
There was also never any pressure from DCU to play football. Niall Moyna and Michael Kennedy were always saying that your course comes first. At 18 or 19 years of age, you can be so focused on your football but they kept an eye to see how you were getting on with your course and to offer grinds if anybody needed it.
I’m lucky too that DCU and Mayo communicate with each other which means that I don’t always have to travel back for training at home. Some guys aren’t as lucky – they are trying to squeeze it all in – it just depends on their managers back home.
What have been the highlights of your college experience at DCU?
A personal highlight for me was living in the apartment on campus in first year. It was my first time living away from home and we had great fun. My sporting highlight was probably winning the Sigerson Cup in 2014. It was really enjoyable, we had a great relationship on that team. We just scraped every game and had to dig deep to get through, sometimes winning by just a point or in extra time but that made it mean a lot.
You’ve been involved in All-Ireland finals in 2016 and 2017 which both featured over 20 DCU current students and alumni. What does that say to you about the influence of the Sports Academy?
The people involved in the Sports Academy and the knowledge that they have of sport is so impressive. I have learned so much from them both on and off the pitch about everything from tactical awareness and skills to knowing that rest is just as important as training. Some managers might want to train all the time with no time to recover but if Niall Moyna knew that a player was not 100% he would always give them time off if necessary.
Ross Munnelly was my fresher manager, I’ve also worked with Ken Robinson, Niall Moyna, Dermot Sheridan, Sean Boylan and obviously Michael Kennedy [Head of Gaelic Games] is always there in the background too.
I always think you learn something new from every manager that you work with. I’ve gotten lots of ideas from my managers in DCU and I’ve definitely brought some of these back home with me.
What attributes do you think that really top sports people all share?
I think mindset is the number one thing. A lot of people are more skilful than me but their head might not be in the right place. Focus and determination are key. If your head is in the right place, you can train yourself to do anything.