No regrets for O'Shea the elder ahead of final showdown

GAA: All Ireland SFC Final Interview

Former Mayo Footballer Séamus O'Shea during a GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final Media Day at the GAA Development Centre in Abbottstown, Dublin. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile.

Former Mayo Footballer Séamus O'Shea during a GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final Media Day at the GAA Development Centre in Abbottstown, Dublin. Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile.

It all started for Seamus O'Shea in the green and red in a senior jersey on a wintry Sunday afternoon in Ballinrobe in January 2008 - the eldest of the O'Shea brothers got his first game time for Mayo as a senior as sub against NUIG in the FBD League that day.

The following weekend, he made his first start as a senior against IT Sligo in Fr O'Hara Park in Charlestown in the same competition, alongside Peadar Gardiner in the middle of the park.

O'Shea's potential had been well marked out at this stage, a minor who in 2005 was part of a team that reached the All Ireland final, with only injury curtailing him from starting that day. The following year, alongside a raft of now household names who came straight out of minor and into u21, he manned the middle of the park for a team that won the All Ireland final against Cork in Ennis.

The last time he got to don the green and red came in the 2019 All Ireland semi-final against Dublin, where he kicked a point, but Mayo were well beaten in the end by a third quarter surge from a then five-in-a-row searching Dublin outfit. He threw his lot back in with Mayo again last year, but failed to see any game time as the new generation of Mayo players put their hands up in the behind-closed-doors championship and, alongside five others who had soldiered for many years for the county, he said his goodbyes to the inter-county game and exited stage left.

With Mayo now back within touching distance of ending a 70-year wait, the obvious place to start when speaking to the Breaffy club man was, does he have any regrets looking on now from the outside?

O'Shea responds: "No not at all, I’d love to be still there if I could play - but for me physically, I’m just not able to anymore. I’ve had a tough time with injuries the last few years, I’ve had four surgeries over a two-year period and last winter in particular, it was difficult, and I am still trying to manage that. Even trying to play a bit of club football will be a bit of a struggle for me at the moment.

"It would have been different if I just decided to pack it in for different reasons and was still able to play a little bit and you would be looking on thinking, Jesus, maybe I could have gone again. But for me, it is easier to kind of park it, because I know I’m not able to contribute at that level anymore and I can kind of sit back as a supporter and enjoy it and support the lads as much as we can. I’m not conflicted at all, just delighted for the lads that they are heading into an All Ireland final and hopefully they get it done."

O'Shea was one of a number of the recently-departed Mayo players picked out on TV during their epic win over Dublin in the semi-final. As to what it was like watching this iteration of Mayo finally getting one over on the Dubs for the first time since 2012, he said: "I was just thrilled for them, absolutely thrilled; it was obviously very emotional there. I struggled to watch the game to be honest. It is the first time I watched the game as a supporter since, 10,12, 13 years ago probably.

"So, it was a weird feeling sitting there and watching it, obviously I was very worried at half time, but they put in a huge performance in the second half and it was obviously because we have a huge history with Dublin - it was just great to see the lads end that run, it was, yah, very emotional afterwards and just like any supporter, I was absolutely thrilled for them."

Tyrone turning over Kerry not a surprise

The talk in the lead-in to this year's championship was all about Kerry looking to take Dublin down off their perch, but Mayo upset that chatter, first off beating Dublin and then Tyrone dug deep and saw off Kerry two weeks later. The win for the red hand men was not something that surprised O'Shea at all.

"I couldn’t really understand why Kerry were installed as such kind of red hot favourites over the last couple of weeks. I know it is something to do with the covid issue and things like that.

"I was trying to think, if I was a player before the game, which dressing room I would rather be sitting in, and certainly I would prefer to be in the position that Tyrone were in. They seemed to have been written off very early on and there seemed to be an assumption that Kerry would run through them. Then obviously, they have been through a couple of proper games, whereas Kerry are coming in a little bit cold - not really knowing where they were at.

"I don’t think that people appreciate how many good footballers Tyrone have. They probably don’t have somebody as good as David Clifford or Con O’Callaghan or someone like that. But they have a whole load of footballers that aren’t a million miles off that, they are a very difficult team to match up because of that.

"I’d an inkling for Tyrone, to be honest, early on, and it didn’t really surprise me the way the game panned out - I was more surprised that Kerry were as ill-prepared as they were to deal with what Tyrone were going to bring, because I don’t think that what Tyrone brought was a huge surprise, the way the play is, the way they play, and Kerry just seemed to play into their hands in long periods of that game which will be a huge source of disappointment for them."

Matching up against the Red Hand men

Mayo will have been prepared as well as possible no matter who they were going to face on Saturday - but facing up against the Ulster champions is going to be something very different for Mayo to try and master, O'Shea believes.

"In a weird way, Tyrone are more difficult to set up against. They probably don’t have that one player that stands out - if we were playing Kerry you go, right, pick someone to mark Clifford and O’Shea; playing Dublin it’s Con O'Callaghan and Ciaran Kilkenny - but if you are playing Tyrone, there is a whole load of fellas you have to worry about - and that makes it difficult to match up against and Mayo are probably the same in fairness.

"That probably makes the game that bit more intriguing. If you look at Tyrone the last day - Darren McCurry didn’t have a great game, but he came good towards the end; Tom O’Sullivan was on top of him the whole game, but they stuck with him and he had a really important last few minutes in extra time. Conor McKenna was quiet, wasn’t hugely involved in the game, but then he is a serious finisher and he is capable of doing and getting big scores like that.

"Ciaran McGeary had a brilliant game, but he kicked four wides or missed four opportunities anyway, so there is a whole load of guys you have to worry about - it is just something for Mayo to think about, just with the match ups - but the same is probably true the other side; Mayo have a whole load of options the other side and have to have a think about how they match up."

Madness in the middle of the field

The middle third was O'Shea's domain for his tenure in the inter-county game, starting 87 times in all competitions at senior level. It is in this area of the field he feels that Mayo can take advantage of Tryone and lay the foundation stones for victory.

"Hopefully, Tyrone really struggled on the kick-outs the last day. I watched it back and in the second half it was frightening how tough they found it to get any kind of primary possession.

"In the first half, the two lads won a couple of kick-outs out towards the wing where they got mismatched onto wing backs and won a couple of good balls, but look, it will be an important part of the game.

"Mayo have some good options there, Mattie Ruane will be there and it will be Diarmuid O'Connor and Conor Loftus potentially rotating - they will ask different questions of that Tyrone midfield.

"(For Kerry ) David Moran played a fairly withdrawn role, Jack Barry was probably the same. They didn’t ask two many questions going forward - Mayo definitely will.

"Mattie will ask questions constantly going forward through the game, Diarmuid and Conor will probably do something similar, hopefully it will be a match-up that works out well for us. Certainly it is a very different match-up from what they would have faced against Kerry the last day."

The middle third now

Being a midfield man at this level is no easy task and the conversion of Conor Loftus from a deadly forward to a midfielder is one of the many changes that James Horan has made in recent years. The Crossmolina man has taken to it and O'Shea has been impressed by his aptitude for the role so far.

"Conor, he was always kind of anywhere in the forward line, corner forward, wing forward, centre forward and to be fair to him, early on he was struggling to make an impact.

"He was kind of coming in as a sub a lot, I don’t think he started too many games for us - maybe a few and he did have some really good moments for us as sub, he scored that great goal against Derry a few years ago, he put a great ball into Andy for the goal in ’17 against Kerry and had a couple of great moments, but that consistency probably wasn’t there.

"To be fair to James, whatever he saw, he tried him out at midfield - it seems to have worked - and it seems to be as a midfielder - and this is something grates with me - when people see a fella who can run around the place, they think throw him in midfield, they will be able to play the position; there is not much to it, but there is a fair bit to it and Conor has taken to it really well and he looks really comfortable out there; and for a guy who hasn’t played there that much, there is a really good understanding of the position and where to be and how to manage it.

"It is funny they way it worked out, I didn’t see him as a midfielder, but training with him last year and chatting to him and seeing how he is playing in the games, it seems to have really suited him, he has been really composed and has been a big plus for Mayo in that area.

"They probably switch a little bit with Diarmuid as well in some of those incidents, if there is a match up for a kick-out they might switch for a second to manage that, he’s not that small, he can be a bit slight and he has a decent leap on him so he can get away with it and then he is just a really good decision-maker on the pitch and is really good on the ball, so I am just delighted for him."

Easier to miss out when you make your own decision to go

Having made the decision to walk away himself, missing out on the potential of being involved with a team who could finally bridge a seven-decade gap is easier to deal with than not being able to do your part due to injury, like Cillian O'Connor faces this weekend, O'Shea believes.

"Yah, it’s tough for him. It is probably easier for the likes of myself and the lads that have finished up. At least you have kind of cut the cord and that and you are not involved.

"It is horrible to be there and be injured and not be able to play - particularly for a guy like Cillian, I thought he was in the form of his life to be honest - he was unlucky not to get footballer of the year last year and the way he was going - I felt like he was going to do something similar this year - he was playing brilliant football, he is a huge loss.

"I just feel for him - Jason Doherty is in a similar boat, he has got a bad injury as well and it is just a tough position to be in for the lads. Look, what can you do, it is part of sport and life you just have to get on with it and unfortunately, they are going to miss out on it and hopefully we get the right result anyway."

Backing them all the way

O'Shea will be in the stand on Saturday, but with brothers Aidan and Conor involved in the squad, it will still be another big week in the O'Shea household, especially with Aidan the captain of the team; but Seamus hasn't thought to much about what it will mean for his younger brother to potentially lift Sam Maguire on Saturday night.

"It would be huge, I haven’t allowed myself to think that far ahead to be honest. I haven’t really thought about it; maybe others have thought ahead of what it would be like, but not for me.

"I’m just thrilled for the lads that they are back in an All Ireland final and have an opportunity to win it - what will happen afterwards will be put on hold until afterwards and as a supporter, I’m a little bit removed from it and am looking forward to the game and hope it goes well for them.

"It is a huge honour to captain Mayo in the first instance and to do something like that would be incredible and we will see what happens, but I am hugely proud of the two lads and all the other lads that will be there and hopefully, it will happen, and it will be a huge honour for the club and for Aidan and everybody else."

Seamus O'Shea was speaking as part of AIB's sponsorship of the GAA All Ireland Senior Football Championship.


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