Aidan O’Shea: ‘I don’t go around wondering how much money Dublin get’
Mayo stalwart looking forward - with slight trepidation - to working with James Horan again
Aidan O’Shea shares a joke with Con O’Callaghan during the 2017 All-Ireland final. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
After a season that ended on an absolute downer, as early as the last Saturday in June and with a second yellow card to add insult to injury-time defeat, Aidan O’Shea is in positively fine form. And why wouldn’t he be?
Sitting in an upstairs studio on Fumbally Lane in Dublin, the sun beaming through the window, the last thing O’Shea wants to talk about is another lost year for Mayo football. Even after 10 seasons it’s already as if things are just getting going again - and in more ways than one.
James Horan’s second coming as Mayo football manager has only added to the eternal optimism within the county, and in the meantime O’Shea is taking care of some unfinished business with his club, Breaffy. They’re through to the Mayo football final for only the third time, having the lost the previous two, awaiting the winners of the semi-final replay between holders Castlebar Mitchels and Ballintubber, both close neighbours of Breaffy.
It’s the one shiny silver lining to Mayo’s championship exit to Kildare back on June 30th, the now legendary ‘Newbridge or nowhere’ showdown, which for O’Shea ended just before the final whistle for that second yellow card. It was a major letdown, only for the run with Breaffy to help break the fall.
“It’s bitter-sweet, obviously, but very enjoyable now, yeah,” he says. “To get into the club scene, and nearly rebuild relationships with the guys, get to know their tendencies. We’ve played six of seven games together by now, which was kind of unheard of the last 10 years.
“We’d five or six county players involved, the last six or seven years, and when we’d finish with Mayo, we’d literally have a week’s prep, then try to plot a now team, even with the lads playing away, league games, without us. It was difficult to fit all that back in.”
Newbridge or anywhere else, O’Shea isn’t allowing that Kildare defeat to linger: “It possibly gave them an edge, in their mentality, but physically they out-did us, on a tight pitch, just pulled away in the last few minutes. But we were down two midfielders, and ultimately I don’t think we were in the shape, or had the legs, to last the Super 8s. I don’t think we would have had the energy. Maybe if we got in there that would have changed, but I think we were fighting it.”
Things have moved on in other ways too - Horan’s appointment for the next four years, seeing him through to end of 2022, coming after the unexpected resignation of Stephen Rochford. O’Shea was already established with Mayo when Horan first took charge in 2011, having made his senior debut two years earlier under John O’Mahony, and even on short reflection, everything about Horan’s second coming makes sense.
“We haven’t sat down with him yet or anything like that, and have really only been getting the information as ye’ are printing it. Some people weren’t sure he would go for it, but once he got it, guys are looking forward to him coming back in.
“I know as well from the kind of individual he is that he’s not coming back in thinking things are going to be the same, that everything will stand still, since he left us. It’s going to be different, and I know the last time he came in he made some cuts pretty quickly, some big names, set the tone very early . . . so ‘watch out’ again, I would say. We’re all looking forward to it, with a bit of fear.
“But I’m certainly not surprised. Even when he left in 2014 he always said it was something he’d like to do again, to come back into play. He probably feels the timing is good, there’s still some of the group that he helped develop, plus a good tranche of players coming through. He’s still a young man, feels he has something to offer, and ultimately wants to win, still has that burning desire to get back in there and get the job done, maybe.”
Horan has already outlined his intentions, including fresh trials for up to 100 players. “I think there is a feeling out there in Mayo that it’s been maybe too ‘in-house’, in terms of the same squad the last number of years, very little change,” explains O’Shea. “Everyone will get the opportunity. And he’s a ruthless enough man, in fairness. He keeps his card close to his chest, but he likes coaching players, getting back into the nitty-gritty.”
Whatever about Horan’s sense of unfinished business with Mayo, O’Shea remains as motivated as ever - if not more so: at 28 he’s not yet past his prime, only certainly somewhere around it.
“As you get older you have to dig a little deeper into those motivations, and for me, I don’t know how many years I have left, maybe three or four, and the motivation is to maximise that. Even if in three years I’m only playing 20 minutes, being thrown in full forward. Maximise and enjoy it while you can, because I do love it, and it will be gone very soon. And life without it will be a sad place. It will be gone in a flash.”
Still a big part of that motivation is to beat Dublin - seeing them win a fourth successive All-Ireland was a reminder of just how good a team they are, O’Shea also adamant that money or resources has nothing to do with it.
“The centrally located part is obviously a benefit for any team. We have that difficulty with the travel, but I don’t go around wondering how much money Dublin get. I go out as a competitive footballer, trying to beat the team in front of us. I’ve never gone into a game against Dublin worrying about how much AIG are giving them.
“They’re a brilliant team. So consistent, very process orientated. I like that way they can inter-change players, nothing changes, and that consistency in performance is very hard to break down. And some seriously good game winners. They’re a fantastic team, and if we want to win an All-Ireland, we have to beat them, same as everybody else.”
O’Shea was speaking as an ambassador for the Heinz Sports Club, which is offering free clothing and equipment to clubs and schools around the country. See heinz.ie/teamz