Wednesday 28 September 2016

Hold the back page - Soaring O'Shea creates high art

Eamonn Sweeney

Published 16/08/2015 | 17:00

Aidan O’Shea: Catch and kick
Aidan O’Shea: Catch and kick

Different people get different things from sport. There are lads, almost always lads, who see sport as a Hemingway-eseque, macho proving ground where men perform masterly deeds to prove that they are indeed men. And lately there's been a tendency to see sport as a kind of business project, complete with its own brand of corporate mumbo-jumbo - 'there's no i in team', and the like.

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But there will always be a lot of us who go to sport in search of beauty. Think of how often those who saw Mick O'Connell in his prime unabashedly invoke his style, grace and elegance as though describing a great ballet dancer. Or the relish with which someone is described as 'a lovely footballer', a phrase which refers to a very specific quality of skill and craft.

That moments of sublime beauty are not exactly a quotidian occurrence in any sport makes them all the more precious when they do happen. That's why the one which arrived during injury time at the end of the first half between Mayo and Donegal this day last week will linger a long time in the memory.

When a long high ball was floated to the edge of the Donegal square, Aidan O'Shea had the arms of Neil McGee, one of the best markers in the game, around him. Yet the Mayo man still managed to leap up and win the ball. Coming down, he found himself with three defenders round him. A nifty sidestep took Mark McHugh out of the equation and, with McGee once more clambering on him, O'Shea threw the ball on to his left foot to give himself a little bit of space to work with and drilled a low shot past Paul Durcan.

As the ball hit the net, the moment was so exhilarating that you felt it justified not only the match itself but the 2015 championship, and Gaelic football as a whole. The skills involved were specific to the game, it was a goal which could only have been scored in Gaelic football by someone who'd mastered it. For all the talk of winning dirty ball and swarm defence and taking one for the team, it is moments like this which supporters go to games for. A game with guys like this in it is going to be ok.

In a couple of seconds O'Shea elevated Gaelic football to the status of art and enriched everyone who witnessed it. In this year's championship, O'Shea has become, like Colm Cooper, a player you hunger to see on the ball because there's always the chance he'll do something special. He is, in fact, a lovely footballer.

And, although I know Mick O'Connell deplores the direction in which Gaelic football has travelled since his retirement, I hope he has seen Aidan O'Shea and recognised an embodiment of the great tradition. Because the words which keep coming up when we talk about Aidan O'Shea are 'catch and kick'.

The torch is passed.

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