How bringing it all back home and a new man in charge helped Aidan O’Shea kick on for Mayo
Returning home to live in Mayo and James Horan’s winning mentality has changed everything
Heavily tipped to be named Footballer of the Year, Aidan O’Shea credits James Horan with changing standards within Mayo football. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Routine. Routine. Wake. Work. Rest. Eat. Train. Play. Sleep.
Wake. Work. Rest. Repeat.
This is Aidan O’Shea’s life now. It wasn’t his life then. Up until he finished college last year, his day was like a scrapbook without the glue. All the bits and pieces he needed were there for him, he just struggled to get around to sticking the right bit with the right piece in the right place at the right time. “It’s not that I don’t like Dublin,” he says. “I love Dublin. But maybe for the wrong reasons.”
The wrong reasons weren’t necessarily bad reasons. This wasn’t life as seen through the bottom of a pint glass or the awning of a nightclub smoking balcony. Nothing so drastic. No, it was more that city life was stretched and sprawled and messier than it needed to be. Certainly messier than he needed it to be.
“I’m not saying I was a loose cannon or anything,” he says. “I’m not one who’d be out all the time. I enjoy a night out but that’s not what I mean. It’s just that my pattern of life was all over the place when I was living in Dublin. One day you’d be sleeping in until 12 o’clock and going to college at one, then coming home and going for a kip in the afternoon. I wasn’t doing the right things.
‘Hard to control’
“Now that I’m at home, I get up at half-six every morning. I go to work. I’m home from work at five every evening. I have four or five hours before I go to bed where I can do whatever I want.
“Whereas when I was in Dublin, I might be home at seven in the evening. Then I have to sort out my dinner, work out how I was getting to the gym – it might take an hour to get there and then you have to park the car and after the session it’s too late to cook proper food. There were too many things that are hard to control.”
It’s a life that can be tolerated by plenty of intercounty footballers, he’s just not one of them. His brother Séamus is one of a dozen players in the Mayo panel who spend most of their year in Dublin either for work or college.
They all handle it with varying degrees of success but O’Shea had long since decided he’d had enough. It was affecting his body shape, affecting his recovery when he got injured, affecting his game in general. It had done so from the start.
“I moved to college and just I didn’t deal with the transition well. I found it hard to control what I needed to be doing to be as an intercounty footballer. Some boys will laugh at me saying this because some boys find it very easy but I found it very difficult. I probably could have stayed in Dublin and worked but I had always planned on going home.
“From the minute I moved to Dublin I was thinking, ‘The second I get my degree I’m out of here.’ I’m probably better equipped now and I suppose working is a big help because you’re more regimented. You’re up at half-six in the morning, you’re eating at the proper times. It’s much easier.
“I had football in my mind when I moved. I don’t plan on going anywhere for the next 10 years but Mayo.”
In another era, in another Mayo, he might have stayed where he was a while. His size would have carried him, his ability would have sustained him. Plenty have done it and entirely respectable football careers were maintained along the way. No reason his couldn’t have been another one on the pile.