YOU GOTTA door? You gotta gym.

As teammates returned to summer training, defender Mark O'Connor turned to the door on his hotel room in quarantine to prepare for Geelong's season of redemption. 

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The Irishman flew home within a week of the Cats' Grand Final defeat in October, and after a nervous wait and three flights to get back into Australia, found himself locked in Perth to start 2021. 

Regarded as one of Geelong's most diligent trainers, O'Connor was forced to find different techniques to ready his body for pre-season number five. 

"I didn't have weights, but I had resistance bands and had a TRX, a thing you hang off a door and can do certain exercises off that," he told after his first week back at GMHBA Stadium. 

"The club organised a treadmill for me so that came in day three or four which made it a lot easier. 

"Then Joel Selwood and (strength and conditioning coach) John Leyden organised a Ross Faulkner footy, one you attach to your back and chest on an elastic band and it comes back quite quickly. 

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"It's great for the hands, to prepare them and keep the skills up and I smashed that in the last week. 

"I also tried yoga, 20 to 30 minutes each afternoon which was nice and relaxing after running on the treadmill and doing leg work in the morning."

After a two-month stint home with family and friends in Dingle (south-west Ireland), the 24-year-old admits it was a close call getting back on Australian soil.  

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"It was really hard to get flights, some days they'd appear, you'd click into them and they're disappear, and it was chopping and changing every day," he said. 

"Airlines were reluctant to put flights up, particularly out of England, they'd cancel flights overnight so one day I spent about four hours looking. 

"I eventually got a flight from Dublin to Heathrow (London), to Doha and onto Perth. 

"It was pretty close to the point where I had to go back and still no flights were available, so I was getting pretty worried for a while."

From there O'Connor completed paperwork and was required to download apps for the Australian government. 


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Upon landing he was met with long lines at airport screenings under the watchful eye of Defence Force personnel and ushered onto a bus to be informed he'd be calling the Hyatt Regency home for the following 14 days.

"They gave us our room number, no key, so when you get there the door's open, there's security on every floor and you step inside your room and you can't open the door from there apart from collecting three meals a day," he said. 

"But we weren't complaining given how lucky we were to be able to travel back into the country."

The Cats leadership group member admits the Grand Final loss "occupied a lot of my thinking" as he flew home in October before serving two weeks of quarantine at his family home. 

More than 300km away from the centre of Ireland's COVID-19 outbreak, O'Connor was then free to roam his hometown, completing regular hikes combined with workouts at local gym WK Fitness. 

Two years after being made to apologise for playing a Gaelic without the Cats' knowledge, O'Connor was granted permission for play for his county Kerry this time. 

But there was one problem. 

"It was pretty flattening … I was in quarantine while watching it and Kerry were playing Cork," he said. 

"We were hot favourites to win it and I was going to be available to play the next game but with the last kick of the game Collingwood's Mark Keane got the winning goal to kick us out.

"The first time that I did play (2018) I did a really poor job of explaining what it meant for me. 

"First of all, I never actually mentioned it before … that was my mistake. 

"Once I explained to the club how important my own club to me back home is, Dingle GAA, they were far more understanding. 

"I just had that craving to play again and when the opportunity came up and I ran it by the club, they were super supportive. I'm super grateful."

Now settled again in Geelong, O'Connor is backing the foundation of gym work completed in Ireland to build on a career-best season that netted a maiden top-10 best and fairest finish in 2020.