Lean, mean machine O'Shea pushing himself to the limit for the cause
Last week, while walking his dog out around Breaffy's GAA pitch, Martin Carney came across the imposing figure of Aidan O'Shea and his promising younger sibling Conor jogging around the perimeter.
Carney and the O'Sheas are neighbours and, when they got talking, it struck him that this was a trek that had become quite routine to them.
"The days that they are not training are the ones they do their running. To me it was a new departure in terms of the intensity of preparation. They'd often be over there, himself and Conor, practising their foot-passing and whatever. But this is routine for them."
For the elder O'Shea, the runs have had to become part of that routine. Compare his chiselled look in the Galway game even to last year's All-Ireland final and there's a world of a difference. Contrast the young man who set off seeking a rookie contract with AFL club Western Bulldogs three-and-a-half years earlier and struggled with their pre-season fitness regime and it's a different universe.
Prior to the Donegal game he weighed in at 16st 2lbs. There is no updated statistic available, but you only have to look to know that the figure has surely tumbled.
He still cuts a very physical presence, however, and in Mayo's opening match it was striking how, at the age of 22, he had become the team's enforcer, taking and making big hits around midfield and controlling the pace and flow of the game with his huge frame and close control.
"Physically he is daunting. He's so influential now and for a lot of the lads around him he's one of these totemic figures they look to," says Carney.
"They look to him to actually set the tone for the game. He's starting to do that and for a lad who is so young, it's a fair achievement. One of the fellas I remember being able to do that was Trevor Giles."
Carney knows that winning his battle with weight has been the critical turning point in O'Shea career.
As a 13-year-old he could make the Breaffy minor team and as a minor with Mayo he carried the fight impressively to Tyrone to force a replay in an epic All-Ireland final.
Size was always on his side, but fitness has appeared to be something he was catching up on.
Carney believes interest and ambition to do well in the game will continue to drive him to the top.
"He really wants to do well in football, he has a great attitude to it. He's very much the modern player in so far as football gets priority," he says.
"The big things that he has bought into are nutrition, hydration and, in his case, weight management. Managing his weight is always going to be a consideration because he has a massive frame. He doesn't take it from the wind. His father (former Kerry minor Jim) is a big man.
"He has bought into what is needed is order to keep the weight manageable at a level he can compete at," says Carney.
Two years ago, when Aidan and Mayo played his father's native county in an All-Ireland semi-final, his absence of mobility was perhaps more pointed than ever, but since then, the graph has risen impressively, his impact off the bench in the Connacht final against Leitrim helping to steer a wobbling ship to safety before he played a vital role in helping Mayo to recover from Donegal's early barrage.
Improving his fitness is reaping big results, which he sees, according to Carney.
"A number of years ago when he went to Australia (for those trials in late 2009) I remember talking to him. He found the stamina work difficult. It really hurt him.
"He has seen enough red flags in terms of stamina. It's the area that he has to continuously work on and improve on. He has brought it forward quite a few notches from where he was a few years ago, particularly that Kerry game."
For Carney, "facing the ball" is the only way to align him on the field and he's glad that the experiments at full-forward and centre-forward have been dispensed with. Former Mayo midfielder Liam MacHale acknowledges the improvement in O'Shea too, but believes he can go further with the right partner.
According to MacHale, neither Barry Moran, his All-Ireland sidekick, nor his brother Seamus, whose improvement in Moran's absence has also been significant, are the right foil for him.
"I'd like to see a more mobile midfielder in with him. I find with Barry Moran and Aidan O'Shea in the middle of the field that defensively we're not great. Laterally, they wouldn't be great movers, they wouldn't be the best defenders. You need a James Nallen-type guy in there with him," figures McHale.
"Give Aidan a licence to go forward. If you put a real athletic, mobile guy that wants to defend and has a real defender's mindset I would imagine then you would see the best of him. His brother (Seamus) is similar to him, which I don't think suits him. We should be trying to put someone in there that would help him reach his full potential as a dominant, physical attacking midfielder. Someone like Donal Vaughan.
"I'd like to see Aidan get three or four shots on goal (per game), which he is not doing at the moment," says MacHale. "I think he has to to sit in the hole more than he'd like to."
After a good season with DIT, winnining the Sigerson Cup, and free from the pubic-bone trouble that set him back in the early part of last year, O'Shea has quickly developed into arguably the most forceful midfield presence in the game.
There is, as MacHale pointed to, improvements to be made. But Aidan O'Shea's baby-faced days look well behind him.