Séamus O'Shea sits back in his chair in the lobby of a Dublin hotel and rummages through a Mayo football life. Sunday will be his 15th championship game, a total that will include three Connacht finals and two All Ireland finals. Not bad for a player who played in minor and Under-21 All-Ireland finals in successive years but had to wait another four seasons to make his senior debut. Not bad for anyone.
“I probably was a bit impatient,” he says of the years before John O’Mahony finally threw him a shirt in the ill-fated summer of 2010. “In my own head I suppose I could always explain it or reason it out. Like, I could say, ‘Well I’ve been injured’ or whatever and that’s why I wasn’t starting. And there’s a bit of comfort in that I suppose. But I did feel that if I got a run at things, I’d be able to contribute.”
The eldest of the three O'Shea brothers is an insurance underwriter based in the city's Docklands. During the winter there are anything up to a dozen Mayo panellists based in Dublin but by this time of year the students and teachers have more or less all gone back west, leaving just him and house-mate Chris Barrett. Though the travel can be a pain, the distance from what can be a madding crowd is no bad thing.
“Mayo is a football county, whatever happens. Whether we win or lose, there will always be those extremes of emotion one way or the other. We know that when things go bad, there’ll be plenty of noise about it. But look, you can’t listen to it too much either, you know? You just try to block it out.”
His Mayo career took a while to leave the runway. A couple of groin surgeries in 2007 and 2008 left him well down the list, so much so that his brother Aidan actually made his championship debut before him despite being three years younger.
Defeats to Sligo – funny enough, the last time Mayo lost in Connacht – and to Longford cut short the summer of his breakthrough year. And although he did reasonably well in 2011, another spring injury meant he was playing catch-up all through 2012. By then, he had moved to Dublin and often landed home from training at one in the morning. Tough going, especially when there wasn’t a guaranteed spot for him in the team.
“But I never got disillusioned or ever felt like I wanted to walk away or anything like that. I still wanted to be involved. You have to be. If you were going home harbouring any doubts about it, you just wouldn’t bother. It’s too much of a commitment. If I was at home and just driving in the road to training, you wouldn’t really think about it. You need to be fairly sure you want to do it.
“I didn’t give it an awful lot of thought. It’d be nearly a case of, if you started asking yourself too many questions, you mightn’t like the answers. But yeah, in those days, you might question it a bit.
“But you get over it because you want to be involved. It’s difficult but you wouldn’t want to be without it either.”
Last year was his best one. After forcing his way in initially because of an injury to Barry Moran, O'Shea was a cornerstone of Mayo's run to September. It ended how it ended but nobody picked holes in his contribution when it was over.
Winter came and the process of shaking it off began. Just because they had experience of doing it the year before didn’t make it any easier. Different situation, different type of loss, different weight to have to shed.
“It’s difficult but actually it doesn’t last too long. You spend the first couple of weeks feeling fairly sick about it but eventually you go, ‘Well, what other choice do I have here?’ It’s difficult but what are you going to do? You can’t leave it like that. It hurts but that goes after a while because you start again.
“We played club championship and then you find that the winter doesn’t be long going. All of a sudden it’s November and you’re back doing a small bit and you leave the year behind you quickly enough. You move on, you can’t be looking back forever. Above all, you can’t go back and win it.
“Obviously it stays in the back of your mind because it’s something you want to achieve . . . But we talked it out and started to concentrate on this year. It’s the only thing you can do.”
Another groin surgery over the winter meant he only made it back for the later stages of the league. But he’s here now, back in another Connacht final. Going again because it’s the only option that makes any sense.