Kerry blood, Mayo heart
The O'Shea brothers come from good Kingdom stock but are plotting their ancestral county's downfall, writes Liam Kelly
AN O'Shea at midfield? You must be talking about Kerry. Two O'Sheas at midfield? You're definitely talking about Kerry ... aren't you?
No. Not in the environs of Castlebar, home of the brothers Aidan and Seamus O'Shea, who proudly wear the green and red of Mayo and not the green and gold of the Kingdom.
It's remarkable that two brothers will play together at midfield in an All-Ireland semi-final -- Mayo manager James Horan has named the same 15 that beat Cork in the quarter-final.
But the extra twist to the tale is their family DNA, which is 100pc Kerry.
Dad Jim, who is manager of the Breaffy senior team in Castlebar, and mother Sheila hail from the Kingdom. Yet their three sons -- Seamus, Aidan and Conor, who is a county minor player -- are committed to the mayo cause, which must be particularly galling for Kerry GAA at a time when the Kerry midfield is under severe scrutiny.
Aidan and Seamus are huge young men, talented footballers, flowering into maturity, who played a big part in helping Mayo achieve their first championship victory over Cork since 1916.
That's the stuff of dreams, but the emotional tug between family and county of origin is a tricky situation for the O'Shea clan this week.
Down in Killorglin, where Jim and Sheila spent a few days last week for Puck Fair, there's no doubt that the banter was a bit special.
Back in Castlebar, the brothers were getting on with treatment for minor injuries before rejoining the Mayo squad in full training for the big match.
In advance of the game, they prefer to avoid public comment, and wait for their football to do the talking. Their attitude is that there's no point in adding any pressure or giving extra ammunition to Jack O'Connor's men in such a pivotal, potentially life-changing game of football.
However, the O'Sheas can expect plenty of comment before, during and possibly after the match on the Kerry connection.
Meanwhile, their performance at midfield against Cork is being forensically examined inside and outside Mayo in the countdown to the big game.
Liam McHale, former All Star and another giant who graced the centre-field area for his county, likes much of what he has seen from the two boys in their centre-field partnership, but feels there is room for improvement.
"They've done very well so far this year," he said. "They're two big strong fellas. I'd be just a little bit disappointed that they seem to turn the ball over a little bit too much for me.
"Against Cork there were a few bad turnovers. I remember Aidan lost a ball twice where he had Keith Higgins inside him. I'd be really concerned about that.
"If they could eradicate that from their game, they'd be two of the best midfielders in the country.
"They're only young lads, but for young lads to improve they have to get constructive criticism. I don't believe they will improve otherwise.
"The two of them are doing very well, and they're really working hard.
"The work rate and sacrificing their bodies wouldn't be the issue, but if you handle the ball 15 or 16 times in an All-Ireland semi-final, 14 or 15 of them have to get to their target.
"You have to keep the ball. You can't afford to turn it over against the best teams. We did that way too much in the quarter-finals and if we do it again I'd imagine the Kerry forwards will punish us."
The former basketball and football star knows he could get some stick for speaking his mind, but doesn't flinch and suggests his Knockmore clubmate Ronan McGarrity might be a good option in the midfield for this game.
"Maybe I'm a bit biased, but I'd like to see Ronan go midfield with Seamus for his experience and for his ability to hold on to the ball and get it to his colleagues up front, and put Aidan in full-forward where he's very comfortable," said McHale.
"Aidan up front would help take pressure off young (Enda) Varley and young (Jason) Doherty.
"These are just little things I'd be looking at because I think we might need Ronan's experience the next day for more than 12 or 13 minutes.
"People will be giving off to me because I'm saying things like this, but you look at the game, you see it again on 'The Sunday Game' and you see the mistakes they made. I can't turn a blind eye to it.
"I hope if the two of them (the O'Sheas) start, they have addressed that problem. The very simple thing is to take the simple option, give it to the nearest man to you, give it to Alan Dillon, give it to Andy Moran -- there's no one better in the country than those boys to make the right decision.
"It's not a difficult thing to sort out but if we haven't got it sorted out by Sunday, we could be in a little bit of bother."
And what does McHale see are the positives for Mayo?
"We didn't expect to be as far as this. I hoped that we'd win the Connacht title and I hoped we'd stay in Division 1. The boys have achieved that, and for me that's a good year with the amount of young players that we have.
"Anything after this is a bonus. I'd love to see us beating Kerry. There's no team in the country that Mayo people would love to beat more than Kerry -- just once.
"Having said that, it's a big ask. There's a lot of inexperience there for Mayo, but maybe that inexperience will help us in that they mightn't be bothered by the record we have in Croker against Kerry in big games.
"Hopefully that's the attitude the players will have -- that they'll just go out and give it their best shot and see where it takes them.
"I think it can be a competitive game and for the first time in a while we can really put it up to Kerry.
"Defensively we're going to be strong, which we need to be.
"The big task is to keep Kieran Donaghy and the Gooch quiet. If we can keep those two quiet, and double team both of them and get the ball out of their hands and put them under pressure and not turn the ball over when we have it, I think we have a 30-70 chance of winning.
"Whether they're 30 years of age or 21 years of age those Kerry boys know how to go out and win big games and you always have to respect that."