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Loftus now a central character

Sport

ON HOME GROUND Conor Loftus is pictured at Downpatrick Head in Ballycastle last week ahead of next Sunday's All Ireland SFC semi-final. Pic: Sportsfile

Conor Loftus’ new role with Mayo has shown a new side to his game

Interview
Mike Finnerty

IT’S a question that is as obvious as it is fascinating.
How has Conor Loftus become one half of Mayo’s Connacht championship-winning midfield during this most unprecedented of GAA seasons?
A fleet-footed wing-forward during his All-Ireland winning minor summer days in 2013, the Crossmolina man was a goalscoring centre-forward less than three years later when Mayo captured the All-Ireland Under-21 title in Ennis.
Since then both Stephen Rochford and James Horan have tried the former basketball ‘point guard’ in a variety of different roles across the Mayo attack, from a sniping corner-forward to a hard-running half-forward.
He’s been Mayo’s free-taker, their super sub (remember his outrageous goal against Derry in the 2017 Qualifiers?) and one of their fall guys on days when things haven’t gone to plan.
But a senior inter-county midfielder? Not so much.
Even the man himself smiles and allows himself a little chuckle when you ask how he’s ended up here — as Mattie Ruane’s ‘wing-man’ in the Mayo engine-room.
“I suppose I started playing midfield with the club this year, I was midfield with the club last year as well, and I’ve been enjoying it,” the EBS advisor, who stands just over 6’ tall, told The Mayo News.
“You’ve a lot of freedom out there, you can use your skill-set a bit more, and it’s been enjoyable. It’s been a step-by-step process; I played there with the club, came back with Mayo, a few of the lads were injured at the time, a few lads hadn’t finished up with their clubs, so I got a couple of training sessions at midfield.
“Luckily enough for me, they’re sticking with it.”
There were times last year when we wondered was the freestyling forward from Crossmolina town still on Horan’s panel — because Loftus was both out of sight and out of mind.
He wasn’t togged when Mayo won the National League title at Croke Park.
While his three championship appearances came as a substitute in the defeat to Roscommon before he started centre-forward against both Down and Armagh, scoring a crucial goal in Newry and kicking a few points from play and frees.
And that was that.
When push came to shove in Mayo’s last five games of the season, ‘Lofty’ was nowhere to be seen. We wondered was it another injury or just a loss of form; either way he had become one of the forgotten men.
Cast your mind back to this spring and Loftus’ role as an impact sub looked set to resume as he made cameo appearances in the league defeats to Dublin and Monaghan, and during the win over Meath. He worked hard and seemed eager, but he didn’t score and his Mayo career seemed to be at a crossroads.
Then Covid-19 hit and the GAA season went into hibernation.
It would be seven and a half months before Mayo played again; but when they did Conor Loftus was wearing the number 9 jersey. All had changed, changed utterly.
“From my point of view, every time I go out there I just try to bring as much energy and pace as I can, and a massive work-rate up,” he explained. “To use a soccer term, to play ‘box-to-box’ up and down the pitch rather than playing between two 45s.
“So I can get up and get a score and get back and help out in defence, and that’s what I am trying to bring. And to pick out passes and progress our play. That’s what I am trying to bring every time I play at midfield to try and make up for the height deficit there.”
You wonder what James Horan has asked of him during his five-game run since the season restarted; it turns out that the message is both simple and extremely effective.
“Just to bring massive work-rate around the middle,” said Loftus. “To bring energy, get up and down, go box-to-box. That you’re helping out in defence when we need it and getting forward supporting the play. Getting off boy’s shoulders and just bringing as much work-rate as you can around the middle.”
‘And when you get to Croke Park, you’re not going to have the hand up to David Clarke asking him to hit you with a kick-out are you?’ we ask, tongue-in-cheek.
“No, we might try a few of them in the next couple of weeks,” smiled Loftus.
Stranger things have happened.

FACTFILE
Name: Conor Loftus
Age: 24
Club: Crossmolina
Occupation: Advisor, EBS Castlebar
Championship debut: London, 2016
Total appearances: 39
Did you know? Conor is a grand-nephew of Dr Mick Loftus, the former GAA President.

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