When Cillian O’Connor wonders out loud where Aidan O’Shea is best positioned on the football field these days then he’s not alone. Especially when O’Shea actually outscored O’Connor the last time Mayo took to the field.
Even if the 6-25 they put past Sligo in the Connacht final is difficult to gauge, the fact 3-4 of it came from O’Shea – all from play – is impossible to ignore: O’Connor, normally Mayo’s go-to forward, scored 1-7.
Still, the question remains of whether or not Mayo can afford to keep positioning O’Shea around the edge of the square, and not around midfield – particularly with Donegal awaiting them in Croke Park this Saturday, for the last of the football quarter-finals. What is certain is that O’Connor doesn’t mind sharing the burden of scoring. If anything, it lightens his own burden in a positive way.
“It does, yeah, in that he [O’Shea] is another point in the attack,” says O’Connor. “We’ve always had runners in the half forward line, to take some heat off us. But even more so this year, with Aidan. And we have tweaked a few things, like moving Aidan inside. He’s worked incredibly hard on his own game, done an awful lot of stuff to improve his game.”
In particular, O’Connor credits O’Shea’s basic ball-handling skills: “He’s really improved his ball skill a lot, his handling, and hand positioning. His footwork too, and he’s more skilful than people thought, at holding the ball and making sure he’s not bowling them over. He’s also very disciplined, and careful where he puts the ball.”
O’Connor agrees O’Shea’s best position may be determined by the nature of the opposition: such as Donegal, for example: “It definitely depends on the day, on the way some teams set up. The last game or two, Aiden definitely got space inside, or made his own space.
"But he is a quality midfielder. He's doing alright at full forward now, but we're keeping our options at midfield. Séamus [O'Shea's brother] is there, Tom Parsons as well, and Barry Moran. So we've options."
And, it seems, more options up front, too, with O’Connor’s brother, Diarmuid, demonstrating yet more of his potential in that Connacht final.
“Diarmuid has definitely grown, is stronger, and has taken on some of the scoring burden too. He was always good for a point or two, but he has put a lot of effort now into his shooting and his finishing and decision-making. When to go for it and when not to go for it.”