Aidan O’Shea finally moves from minor part to leading role
A star at underage level, O’Shea has finally found his feet as a senior with Mayo
Aidan O’Shea claims possession during last year’s All-Ireland final agsinst Donegal. O’Shea will be hoping for a different result when the two sides meet in tomorrow’s All-Ireland quarter-final at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
They come along every so often; teenage stars of Gaelic games who appear on the field like man-children and seem as helpless as their peers in their utter domination of the game. Mayo, with an almost unbroken tradition of producing strong underage teams down the decades, have had more than their share of prodigies.
Followers of the Mayo game of the early 1980s can still marvel at the unstoppable grace and power which Páadraig Brogan stamped on games in the colours of Knockmore, St Jarlath’s College and Mayo but those vivid recollections are always tempered by the nagging suspicion that all that youthful success and the ease with which it came did him no good as a senior footballer.
Brogan was the obvious comparison for Aidan O’Shea when he came bursting out of the Breaffy underage ranks with a physique that apparently skipped the adolescent stage.
O’Shea was just 13 when he was selected on his club’s minor side, a startlingly precocious debut about which he was able to laugh in the run up to last year’s All-Ireland senior final.
On the team
“I was talking recently to my Dad about that,” he said, “he was a selector but he wasn’t officially the manager. But I reckoned I should be started on the team. I suppose that was youth for you.”
The remark was typical of the attitude which O’Shea has carried through his football life: at once breezy and light-hearted while placing football at the centre of everything he is about.
As a football county, Mayo was still coping with the cataclysmal disappointments of the 2004 and 2006 All-Ireland senior final collapses against Kerry when O’Shea began to announce himself as the fulcrum for the next generation.
His performances for Mayo through the All-Ireland minor season of 2008 were exceptional and underlined the central trait of Mayo football which is too often ignored: they keep coming back. Still licking the wounds from those All-Ireland defeats and uncertain where to go at senior level, here they were pushing for more All-Ireland glory with a new generation of talent.
They went to that year’s final against Tyrone and many match reports from that drawn match refer to O’Shea’s height and physique as he stood speaking with reporters. He collected man of the match that day in Croke Park despite being a doubtful starter having fractured a thumb in the semi-final win over Kerry.
“There was a bit of a loss of concentration just before half time. . . we let them get a run on us for 10 or 15 minutes but we knew coming out for the second half we had a chance,” he told his audience then.
“Sure, we put ourselves in a position to do it but we just failed to execute in the last few minutes. There is more to come from Mayo.”
The sentiments sound strikingly similar in tone to James Horan – a cool and logical analysis of the games – even though at that stage few were thinking in terms of Horan as a Mayo manager.
As it happened, Mayo were beaten in the replay and O’Shea had his first keen taste of the bittersweet experiences that come with playing for a county which contests a lot of All-Ireland finals.