Man in the middle ready to reach the top of the game
From a young age Aidan O’Shea has always known what he needed to do to succeed, writes SEAN MORAN
WITH KIPLINGESQUE fortitude, Aidan O’Shea dusts himself down after mere setbacks and pushes ahead. Blessed with a prodigious football talent, he has had to help it to flourish in Mayo rather than in Kerry from where both of his Killorglin parents had moved before he was born.
A stand-out minor and the rallying point for a defeated Mayo team in the replayed 2008 All-Ireland final against Tyrone, he progressed to senior football almost seamlessly, scoring nearly a goal a match in the league and playing a key role in the county’s senior Connacht title success.
Things reached a watershed half way through August 2009, as O’Shea revealed in his final Leaving Cert diary for this newspaper.
“Just days ago I was on the pitch in Croke Park. Mayo were four points ahead with 20 minutes of the All-Ireland quarter-final to go. I had played my part in the Mayo score-line and victory against Meath was within our grasp.
“My Leaving Cert results were chugging down the track and a business degree . . . was on the horizon. Things were looking good for Aidan O’Shea. But disaster struck. The last 20 minutes turned everything around. The game went to Meath and I think my luck went with it.”
What followed didn’t quite keep pace with the early footballing promise. A trial in the AFL had been on offer in July but then manager John O’Mahony persuaded him to defer until the end of the year – a lucky break for Mayo in that O’Shea trialled in his off-season rather than at peak championship fitness.
But the disruption of moving to third-level education in Dublin at DIT and adapting to living away from home inevitably took its toll. Loss of form, injuries and eventual dropping intervened and Mayo had a horror summer, ending in defeats by Sligo and Longford and the stepping-down of O’Mahony.
Ready for a new start, O’Shea was instantly impressed by incoming manager James Horan:
“The very first day I met him. I didn’t know James on a personal level even though we live in the same parish but from the moment I met him I knew there was something different about him. He isn’t here just to tick a box and say he managed Mayo; he’s here to win. That mentality got through to the players straight away.”
Whereas his minor and early senior career were frequently spent in the attack, centre forward with the minors and full forward initially with the seniors, his obvious position is around the middle and that’s where he played as the Connacht title was won for the past two seasons. It’s his preferred role.
“I was itching for a role more out around the middle,” he says, “because I wouldn’t really be comfortable in at full forward but saying that, I can still do a job even if there are better players out there to fill those positions in my opinion. I think it’s been seen in the past couple of years that I’m more comfortable around midfield.”
Injury again came calling earlier this year. It reached a point of no return when team-mate Barry Moran had to help him up off the ground at the end of a league match in Tralee. He wouldn’t play again for 15 weeks, not a bad deal in the circumstances for the injury that effectively ended the career of Galway’s Michael Donnellan and which has kept his friend and team-mate Tom Parsons out for over a year.
“Rectus sheath or osteitis pubis or inflammation of the pubic bone,” he explains. “I got it done with lots of time spent in ice baths and cryotherapy chambers. I think there’s a surgery for rectus sheath in Philadelphia but you’re not guaranteed anything and it’s very expensive, so rest and rehab and proper running mechanics and stuff like that is the way to stop loading the area and that’s how you get out of it.”
He stormed back in the Connacht final last July, appearing for the last quarter and making a big impact in a tight match. His Croke Park displays have maintained the form and against Dublin his physicality and appetite for the ball in the semi-final saw him dispossess both Michael Darragh Macauley and Denis Bastick in a tour de force first half.
Fit to play and in form, he heads for Sunday’s final without a backward glance and says that he never doubted the day would come.
“No. Since I was a young fella I’ve always expected to be where I am right now. If you don’t have that mentality you’re going the wrong way. I think when James came in I knew for sure we were going to be at this day. The set-up has been top-notch and players will respond to it and that’s what’s happened.”