O'Shea ready to lead Mayo to greatness

GAA: All Ireland Senior Football Championship Final

Ready to lead: Aidan O'Shea will lead Mayo out tomorrow evening against Dublin in the All Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile

Ready to lead: Aidan O'Shea will lead Mayo out tomorrow evening against Dublin in the All Ireland final. Photo: Sportsfile

Only three times has Sam Maguire been hoisted in the air by a Mayo captain - Aidan O'Shea is the latest in a long line of those looking to follow in the footsteps of Sean Flanagan in 1950 and 1951 and Seamus O'Malley who was the first Mayo man to do it in 1936.

O'Shea has been one of many leaders on the field for Mayo over the past decade, when they have gone toe-to-toe with the best in the land only to come up short - but this year he will be the one leading them out of the tunnel on to the pitch, taking the coin toss and hopefully making a victory speech after full time.

As for taking on the captains role it's a huge honour he says, but one he hasn't put too much thought into:

"It was a big honour to be asked at the start of the year. I had thought that time or opportunity may have passed me by especially withe core of the group moving that little bit younger, but to be asked was huge.

"No more than any of the players, the aim at the start of the year was to go on and win an All Ireland title, that was of course at the back of my mind.

"But for me there are lots of guys across the group, young and old who have taken a leadership role in the group and there are obviously a couple of players you would associate with leadership that aren’t playing as much as they would like, Tom (Parsons ), Seamie (O’Shea ), Chrissy (Barrett ), Colm Boyle who is battling to get into the squad and team - there is plenty of experience there. In terms of leading the team out, it is a huge honour for myself."

As for tempting fate and having a speech written out in case it's needed, he hadn't done so when he spoke to the media last week,

“No I haven’t even thought about it, the fact that there is no crowd I didn’t prepare one for the Connacht final, they told me it was up to me if I wanted to make one or not. I’m sure if the opportunity affords itself I’ll be able to make one no problem, there is the cúpla focal there somewhere" he said.

Like all players this year not having family in the stands cheering them on is something that O'Shea has got to get used to, but he does get filled in on all the action at home once he gets back from games.

"It is a bit funny getting home from the games and hearing the stories of what has happened in the house. I’d say Dad’s trying to watch the game and my mother is getting a bit high and my partner is getting a bit nervous, usually they’d be at the games.

"But it is a bit different and strange, but usually they’d be wishing you luck as you head off and they’d catch you afterwards but like last weekend it was a three hour journey home before you see them, so it is a little bit strange.

"I’d say it is killing my dad, he’d be at every game possible to see it, it is difficult for family members in general, but they are just happy and proud to see us do well over the last few weeks.

The old enemy at the gate

The rivalry that Mayo and Dublin have built up over the past decade has been one of the highlights of the game for interested parties and neutrals alike - it's been eight seasons since Mayo defeated Dublin and when asked about the dynamic of that rivalry it's time to shift the scoreboard a bit, O'Shea says.

"It's one sided at the moment anyway, unfortunately. But the games have been unbelievable games, I think of the last decadethe games between the two teams have been the biggest games in Croke Park and you know there is huge respect for what they have achieved; they have been really close games and I think we bring the best out of each other in a lot of way. We’ve probably not played very well at times throughout the season and then it comes to Dublin and it probably brings the best out of us in ways and it probably focuses the mind and that will be the case on Saturday.

There are plenty of lessons that Mayo will have learned from the clashes on bid days over recent years and ones they will hope to improve on come tomorrow evening.

"We’ve learned a lot. Hard lessons I’m afraid. But I think the concentration, the consequence for a mistake is more significant than it is against anybody else. You can’t afford to in possession or out of possession make too many mistakes.

"Structurely you need to stay strong, where as against other teams you can probably have a little bit of variability on that and your risks don’t have the same level of consequence.

"From our perspective we still want to be expressive and play our game, but you need to taper that and understand when you are executing that if you don’t it correctly there is a punishment at the end of it when you are playing Dublin.

"Saying that - the way we are playing is a free flowing, exciting game and we will continue to do that because that’s what suits us best and our skill set best, that is what I have learned.

"But from our group a lot of those players would not have played against the Dubs before, so it is fresh for them and something different for the opposition.

Last years semi-final saw things go exceptionally well for Mayo in the first half, before Dublin blitzed them in the opening stages of the second period - but as he mentioned earlier, Dublin punish you more than most for mistakes.

"At half time we were quite content, we probably were disappointed with a couple of scores they got in the first half - but in terms of where we were in the game and executing our game plan, we were as close as to where we wanted to be. Half-time it was pretty much more of the same, that’s not how it transpired unfortunately.

"Paddy had a shot into Cluxton’s hands and they went down and got the first goal, memory and people's memories was that it was complete domination, which it was I suppose - we had opportunities in possession which we coughed up to easily and we didn’t get ourselves down the other end of the field to try and counter at all, we just kept coughing up possession and their execution in that period was sublime.

"Paul Mannion kicked a couple of really accurate scores from distance and on the wrong side, it was a bit of a whirlwind couple of minutes and we tried to get a foothold back in the game, but it seemed to be just wave on wave coming back at us, but that is what happens if you make mistakes, they’ll punish you.


That taste of success: Aidan O'Shea will be looking to taste that winning feeling again tomorrow night. Photo: Sportsfile

The straight road and new faces

After having to navigate the rollercoaster of the qualifiers and then the Super Eights and a week later Dublin in an All Ireland semi-final last year, it has been a straight through road that Mayo have travelled this year and with much less miles in the legs to deal with, something O'Shea hopes will be a big help tomorrow.

"Last year was funny in terms of we were probably under pressure and patching things up week on week last year with the Super Eights and coming off the qualifiers.

"We probably went into that championship game with very little work done. I think we are little bit more further along as a group and another thing is the huge injection from this year to last year, there is a huge change in personnel - there is a lot of freshness with the debutants in the championship which is huge and it does feel like a totally different outfit that we have and I’d like to think we have a better understanding about what we have both as a collective and individuals and we have shown that over the last five or six weeks."

The freshness of new players has emboldened Mayo and the fact there has been a straight run of time in the squad since they got back from club duty has been a big factor in those players stepping up to the plate he believes.

"Maybe if the championship had been rn with no break in between we might not have seen that acceleration in growth. Some of them like Oisin (Mullin ) in particular were in the squad last year and was close to making his championship debut last year in the Super 8s, and James decided not to use him but he was right in there with a chance and we knew he was ready made.

"Some of them have found that break (due to Covid stopping inter-county games in March ) it has given them that opportunity to develop physically and then get a better understanding of what is required and what we wanted to do as a group.

"Before that you were going game to game and you don’t get a chance to sit down and step through the different nuinces of our game and what the opposition might bring, so I think definitely the break might have accelerated the quality that was there, that was undoubted in terms of what we knew was coming through. But the fact that they have produced pretty strong for us have been really encouraging."

Having been a key man for Mayo since his debut season in 2009, O'Shea knows that chances like this might not come around too often again but he knows the future is in good hands.

"I haven’t thought about it, I have been lucky enough to get to play in quite a few of them and a lot of people would have said this opportunity wouldn’t afford itself again.

I kind of bookend one year after it and I see ourselves having a chance every year to be honest to get where we are with the quality of player in Mayo - the future is strong. The likes of Cillian, myself, Lee we’ll be moving on shortly but you can see with the core group that is coming they are at it, they are pretty strong characters in the dressing room and I think Mayo is in a good place, so there is an opportunity every year, but you need to capitalise on them when they come around."

Having been so close at times to the winning line isn't something that has got into Mayo's heads and stopped them passing, that line according to O'Shea.

"It is hard to know, but I don’t think so. Those minutes fly by so quickly I don’t think you have time to think about winning, you are not in that headspace, there is too much going on.

"Maybe we should be a little bit more pragmatic in those moments, a little bit more clinical in how we play those out in positions like that - I don’t think it is the fact that the finishing line is getting close and our minds start to wander

"I don’t think from being in those moments that it is something that has impacted, those things kind of take over when the game is over and maybe we could be a little bit more clinical and pragmatic in our approach of how we finish out those minutes and keep out that lead and keep the scoreboard ticking."

The last line of attack and first line of defence

Mayo's full forward line of O'Shea, Cillian O'Connor and Tommy Conroy have been more than a handful for all the sides they have faced this year and it's not just on the scoreboard but their work rate in stopping sides building attacks from the back and that is something they will be looking to do again tomorrow evening.

"I think, myself and Cillian would have prided ourselves on that for a long time. I think the group enjoy that side of the game, it is part of the way we play.

"But it is also the transition of your traditional full forward line, maybe 20 years ago it wasn’t their job where as now you are absloutly involved in the defence and it is part of your job and you are as responsible for what happens at the other end of the field as you are for the scoring side of it .

"It is something we discuss and talk about a lot. Definitely it is much in the forefront of our mind as much as scoring and we do take good pride in it.

As for the two either side of him, they have gelled together very well with his own game he says: "I told Cillian and Tommy after the game (All Ireland semi-final ) it was 4-14 between us. Look the guys are going really well, they complement each other really well.

"Cillian with that break, he probably needed that break just for his own body. People outside of our group would not understand the things he’s done to try and get himself on the football pitch over the last five or six years and continues to do to contribute.

"To see him being free and out there and able to express himself the way he would like and be able to train week in week out, you can see the fruits of it on the football pitch and what a player he is and I’m just delighted for him

"Tommy on the other side - he’s just kind of your modern day corner forward he can do everything, he’s got pace, he can kick off both feet and he has that kind of real thing where once he gets yah, he wants to go at ya and he has an eye for goal and he’s a really good addition for us.

"The two guys are doing a huge amount of work for us up front, it is not just in possession, but our of possession. Cillian’s tackling and Tommy’s have been a feature for us - but it is a different proposition against Dublin and we need to make a few adjustments around that too, but they are two players going really well for us."

The people at home and abroad

With the fanatical Mayo supporters at home and abroad locked out from the games, giving them something to cheer about and look forward to over the Winter months is something that O'Shea is proud of and privileged to be part of.

"I think we are privileged, all teams left appreciate the opportunity we have got over the last two to three months and a lot of people haven’t been able to do what they like to do or get home to see family over Christmas. They are huge things in people's lives, no more so than in Mayo and the messages are really nice.

"I’m working from home at the moment and usually at work you’d have a huge well wish from work and you’d have bus loads going and they can’t get to games, we’re representing them on the pitch and I hope we have brought joy to them and their sitting rooms in Mayo or across the world over the last few weeks and it has shortened this pandemic for them and we’ll do them proud."


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