Under-21s keep Mayo’s eye on ball before London call

‘They are great leaders already, at 21 years of age. Hopefully a few more will knock on in the next few years too’

Just because the Mayo footballers are enjoying a two-month break between league and championship doesn't mean there's nothing to play for, as Aidan O'Shea is quick to point out.

Saturday’s All-Ireland under-21 semi-final against Dublin may actually have a big bearing on how Mayo perform for the rest of the year.

“It was my first year at under-21, the last time they won a Connacht championship (in 2009), so it was too long,” says O’Shea, reflecting on Mayo’s recent Connacht final victory over Roscommon.

“There’s been a lot of pressure on those shoulders for the last couple of years for anyone who has played under-21 for Mayo. They are a very talented group of lads and obviously we have a good crew of them in with us at the moment.


“Dublin are churning out young fellas every day of the week, so they are going to be a very tough task at the weekend. But it will bring Mayo on a lot. They obviously won the All-Ireland minor title a couple of years ago and they have some very strong characters in that dressing room.

"I don't know is it the winning or what, but it is apparent for some of the players we've brought through. Diarmuid O'Connor and Stephen Coen are just great guys with great heads on them. I don't know is that from winning or just the personalities that they are. They are great leaders already, at 21 years of age. Hopefully a few more will knock on in the next few years too because I think it's been a big positive for those guys."


Win or lose on Saturday in Tullamore, Mayo’s main priority remains their Connacht Championship opener away to London on May 29th.

That may sound like a handy one but O’Shea is quick to point out how lucky Mayo were to come away with a win the last time they visited Ruislip in 2011.

"We've nearly 10 weeks until the London game but still a little work to do yet. I still remember that last London game. We missed a penalty early on and it just snowballed from there. Myself, Trevor Mortimer and Kevin O'Loughlin came off the bench, and the two boys came up with big scores.


“To be honest I thought we were gone. It was a crazy, crazy atmosphere, something I’ll never forget. Maybe we just took our eye off the ball, missed a few frees, and it took us to the last second to turn it around. Thankfully, in extra time we got the job done.”

Despite the stop-start nature of Mayo's recent league campaign, O'Shea is satisfied they got all that they wanted from it – particularly with new manager Stephen Rochford finding his feet.

“It was funny this year,” says O’Shea.“But we used 35 players in the league. We just got on the side of a few bad results.”

Not that O’Shea was reading too deeply into either Dublin or Kerry’s wins last Sunday, particularly with the reports that Donegal hardly trained all week before taking on Dublin, their eyes already on the Ulster Championship.

“It’s a difficult one. It probably brings you back to the conversation of the structure of the championship. For Donegal, they are out fairly soon so their focus is on the championship. If it was us in a league semi-final I’d like to be winning it and getting to a final to try and win that. But it’s a decision they may have made from where they are, so it’s totally up to the team to do it.”

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics