Darragh Ó Sé: I felt sorry for Aidan O'Shea - I've been there

Curbing Kerry's Kieran Donaghy remains a major problem for Mayo’s management

I was sitting among a grand big family of Mayo supporters last Sunday, outnumbered but I held my own. There was a young lad sitting in front of me, 10-years- old and mad for Mayo.

At one stage, I let a roar out of me that went a bit too far and included some bad language. As I sat down again, I leaned forward and apologised for letting the moment get the better of me.

“Don’t worry about it,” said his uncle. “He’s a 10-year-old Mayo supporter. If hearing a few ‘f**ks’ is the worst thing that happens to him at a football match, life isn’t going to be too bad.”

That’s the thing with Mayo. They keep giving their supporters these great games and massive occasions but they can’t seem to get them over the line. You just know Kerry have gone away from that game telling themselves that they didn’t play well and still got away out the gap without losing. If one team was cursing heading back the road, you’d imagine it was Mayo. They played the better football and didn’t win.


At this part of the season, I always think it comes down to a numbers game. I often find it funny that pundits spend so much time breaking down game plans and tactical mistakes and all that jazz. They pay so much attention to it without ever actually informing the public of the level of importance to attach to it. I genuinely think it gets way overstated.

Players play. That’s the long and short of it. Some play well and some play badly. In an All-Ireland semi-final and final, you generally need 10 guys to play well and maybe two to be exceptional. If you have that and you still don’t win, then you need to be asking yourself why.

Mayo had it on Sunday. Go through their team and you wouldn't find too many below-par performances. Aidan O'Shea would be one – and we'll get to him in a bit. Lee Keegan was well-shackled by Paul Murphy. Seamie O'Shea got turned over for a crucial goal and kicked a ball short to start a move that ended in a point. But go through the rest of them and you have a generally solid level of performance with Andy Moran and Tom Parsons exceptional.

Go through the Kerry team and who played well? Paul Murphy, yes. Peter Crowley, Stephen O'Brien, David Moran, yes. Paul Geaney to a certain extent but without reaching the heights that he's capable of. Kieran Donaghy was exceptional. Anyone else? Jack Barry and Darran O'Sullivan, maybe. But that's about it.

So going by the numbers game, Kerry should have lost. That’s what they will bring to training with them this week. People are talking down here about big personnel changes and everything else but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it was the same team again, except with Donnchadh Walsh back if he’s fit to play and Jack Barry in for Anthony Maher. Otherwise, it’s just up to fellas to play better.

Second group

Just play better. That’s why you’re here. Remember who you are and be that player. Jack Barry did well when he came on because he’s raw-boned and cranky and ran all day and made Mayo run all day with him. That’s who he is. But when Donaghy put him through on goal with 15 minutes to go, he forgot who he is. He got carried away with his lovely sidestep inside the cover and all he could see was the back of the net.

Freeze the frame, right at that moment. That’s when you need the presence of mind to remember who you are. If I was good at anything as a footballer, it was knowing what I was bad at. There’s a reason some fellas end up with (1-3) beside their name and some fellas don’t. I belonged firmly in the second group and so my instinct was always to look for the guys in the first one.

I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger in that circumstance. That’s not being wise in hindsight, I just know the sort of player I was. I would have looked up to see who was going to score the goal here. Jack Barry didn’t hit a bad shot but he didn’t score either. He didn’t make sure.

Be the guy who makes sure. That’s how you play better. Jack Barry got himself in on goal but he didn’t have the composure to realise that Jack Savage was inside with nobody on him. All it would have taken was four steps to draw the goalkeeper and slip a handy pass. Kerry would have been four points up, just like that.

Actually, that’s probably when the young Mayo lad in front of me got the earful.

I saw it with too many Kerry players the last day. Too many guys not being themselves, not living up to their responsibilities. James O’Donoghue seems to be in a tailspin. It’s just not happening for him. At his level of football, to miss some of the chances he did the last day was criminal.

The same goes for Bryan Sheehan at the end. Maybe it’s easy for me to say it sitting above in the stands but that’s a free he should be scoring. I’m not saying it was easy, I’m saying it’s a free Bryan Sheehan has been kicking all his life. He has been training away the same as the rest of them for the past eight months – this was his chance to show everyone why.

This was the ideal script for him. Maybe at this stage in his career he accepts that there isn’t a starting role there for him but whatever else happens, he knows that if there’s game on the line and Kerry need a free to be kicked from that distance, that’s his role. And there’s nobody better for it. The game was set up for him – sides level, off the bench to put Kerry in a final. Kerry needed Bryan Sheehan in that spot. But he blew it. He will be devastated.

Wrong option

Kerry are lucky to be still standing, with that many players underperforming. They’re still alive because of Kieran Donaghy, plain and simple.

I have heard some fellas down here giving Donaghy no credit for the year he’s having and pointing out (as if nobody else noticed) that he’s done well at full-forward because he’s being marked by midfielders. It only goes to show how small-minded some people are when it comes right down to it.

I don't know did he take a heavy tackle in the game. If he did, I don't remember it

I look at this a different way. Donaghy is spooking the life out of every manager he comes up against – and if you’re doing that in your 13th season of inter-county football then you deserve every bit of credit and more.

Stephen Rochford made a call to put Aidan O'Shea back there on Sunday and it turned out to be the wrong option. But he had to do something because Donaghy demands that of any manager coming up against Kerry. I give him full marks for trying something radical.

The reason it didn’t work was because O’Shea didn’t do any out-and-out defending on Donaghy. By standing off him, Mayo let him ease himself into the game. They filled him with confidence and let him be exactly the sort of player he wants to be. Donaghy loves that role, being the focal point of the attack, bringing other lads into play, setting up scores, helping everyone around him.

Why would you give him that sort of lift? After 20 minutes, you could see by his body language that he was loving life. In that sort of mood, Donaghy could see himself running the country. No bother, man, just let me finish off this game here and I’ll get right on it.

Mayo just didn’t test him. Aidan O’Shea didn’t go running up the field and make him wonder whether he should follow him or not. They let him play the game on his terms. I don’t know did he take a heavy tackle in the game. If he did, I don’t remember it.

That's why I couldn't believe it when Eamonn Fitzmaurice took Donaghy off. I understand the idea behind getting Sheehan on the field but I still would have kept Donaghy there. He was Kerry's main route to goal all day and he was fresh as a daisy because he hadn't had a hard game. I would have left him there for the last five minutes to see what he could make happen.

In saying that, I felt sorry for O’Shea watching from the stands. I was that soldier once in my career but my circumstances were far more tolerable than his. We played Dublin in a league game in Tralee one night and Jack O’Connor decided to stick me at centre-back and switched Tomás into midfield. Trust me, it only happened once.

Headless chicken

I was like a headless chicken. I didn’t know where to stand, where to move, when to go with my man, when to stay where I was. I was fighting the urge to go for kick-outs, looking around me, raging. Tomás was giving Ciarán Whelan plenty of it out around the middle and I was watching this going, ‘That’s my patch’. It was one of the least satisfying games I ever played in.

It goes back to being who you are.

You spend your whole life working on your skills and refining them so that you can do them without thinking when the time comes. You create a sort of a learned instinct for things so that you don’t have to waste time on the pitch. I had no instinct that night that I could trust. It was like I was behind the wheel of a left-hand drive car.

There is no scarier place to be than a high-intensity game in Croke Park if you are questioning yourself on the basics. If you’re thinking of anything other than the next ball, you’re in huge trouble. The whole point of training yourself to be an intercounty footballer is to make the basics as familiar to you as speaking your native language. That night in Tralee, I needed an interpreter.

And looking at Aidan O’Shea on Sunday, he could have done with one too. He didn’t want to get too close to Donaghy because he didn’t have the tricks of the trade that defenders do to stop himself getting skinned. Donaghy beat him three times on the ground with nothing more than a fairly basic shimmy, the sort of thing any natural defender would laugh at him for trying.

If they’re going to go with O’Shea on him again on Saturday, he has to get tighter to him. I have half a notion that they might go with him again and just decide to tweak the way he plays on him. One way or the other, whoever they choose has to give Donaghy a far less comfortable time of it. That’s non-negotiable.

As for who will win, I’ll stick to my guns and say that the improvement will come in these Kerry players and they’ll come out on the right side by a couple of points. But that improvement has to come. They have to get those numbers up.