Sunday 22 July 2018

Aidan O'Shea claims he was head-butted as Dublin and Mayo count the cost of walking wounded

Aidan O’Shea and Philly McMahon clash during yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final
Aidan O’Shea and Philly McMahon clash during yesterday’s All-Ireland SFC semi-final
Dublin’s Diarmuid Connolly and Mayo’s Diarmuid O’Connor tussle
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

When the Dublin players emerged from their dressing-room after their 2013 All-Ireland final win over Mayo, it was like a scene from a war zone.

Paul Flynn was so disorientated after his effort he apologised to his audience if he wasn't making sense, Michael Darragh Macauley limped to the players' lounge, Jonny Cooper sported a swelled and blackened eye, Rory O'Carroll had concussion, Eoghan O'Gara walked with the aid of crutches.

Two years on the cast is somewhat different but the images are much the same - enough ice-packs to fill a rink attached to limbs, heads and torsos.

Dublin and Mayo's football recent rivalry is renowned for its capacity to compel. But it is also the game's most physically brutal relationship.

Six minutes in, Jack McCaffrey was in Ferrari mode scything into Mayo territory when Donie Vaughan meet him flush with a shoulder and an impact to make a crash-test dummy wince. It flattened the young half-back but only briefly.

He bounced up quickly, offloaded to Ciarán Kilkenny who in turn was met with a shuddering contact by Tom Parsons. Parsons was yellow-carded. Within two minutes Vaughan was walking to the line with a damaged AC joint that Noel Connelly suspected will keep him out of Saturday 's replay.

You thought back to Armagh manager Kieran McGeeney's comments earlier in the season that Dublin and Kerry hit harder than anyone and that Mayo had "stepped it up too" in recent years. Here was empirical evidence of that.

By then Rory O'Carroll was already out of the game from a facial wound that reportedly required 10 stitches for an apparent off-the-ball incident in the opening three minutes.


The tone was set in those early stages and it didn't really deviate from that, cynicism and a nasty undercurrent underpinning so many of the exchanges too. By the end Dublin had a card count (one red, two black, three yellow) that was at odds with manager Jim Gavin's mantra on discipline since he took over.

Both black cards though appeared harsh, Michael Darragh Macauley appearing to make contact with the ball first as he took down Keith Higgins in the 49th minute, Denis Bastick clumsy but not dripping with intent.

But Cian O'Sullivan was lucky not to be subbed when he took down the outstanding Diarmuid O'Connor in the 31st minute, having initially tugged his jersey.

They'll be lucky too if Philly McMahon survives the week without some dialogue with a disciplinary acronym for alleged use of the head in a 42nd-minute confrontation.

"I was headbutted alright," confirmed O'Shea afterwards without making anything of it. "But sure that's not for me to enforce the rules of the game. There was plenty of more things out there that the referee missed too."

True, Joe McQuillan needed eyes in the back of his head for this one. Referees see Ulster as their ultimate test, something David Coldrick acknowledged earlier this year. But Dublin and Mayo ask far more searching questions of the man in the middle than Clones ever does now, questions that aren't and maybe can't always be answered the right way.

The action around O'Shea was just one long-running collision.

Almost every time Mayo's attacking bulwark got possession he had the company of three, sometimes four, Dublin defenders pressing around him, Philly McMahon on permanent sentry duty once O'Carroll was withdrawn and Cian O'Sullivan who sat back in a sweeping role that he executed so impressively.

Mayo's lack of support for O'Shea was a functional failure, their guarded approach to Dublin's counter-attacking ability ensuring too much isolation for O'Shea who invariably won or broke down to himself any ball aimed in his direction.

The nature of Dublin's approach to handling O'Shea wasn't touched on directly by Connelly but you knew what message he was seeking to get across when he spoke afterwards.

"I have said this before, I don't like going on about the way that Aido maybe gets tackled at times," he said.

"Other players, smaller in stature and being marked the same way he is, would be getting frees in my mind. But look, every referee goes out to do his best and I'm sure Joe (McQuillan) did his best there overall," he added.

Connelly revealed they had concerns with Dublin's approach off the ball, not just with O'Shea.

"You know it's something we brought to the attention of the linesman on a couple of occasions. It wasn't just Aido. I thought Kevin McLoughlin got a tough time.

"Look, it's senior football. We don't expect to come here and be untouched, don't get me wrong.

"But some of the jersey-pulling to the ground was very obvious at times, I didn't see as much action taken as I would have liked. We made the linesman aware and we were asking him to bring it to his attention, so whether or which it was or not, I can't tell you." Case made, though, for the next day.

Jim Gavin? He's not prone to public bartering on such matters, preferring quiet diplomacy instead.

The O'Carroll injury surely demanded a much greater airing though as did the penalty call when Colm Boyle appeared to launch himself into a forest of blue shirts in a desperate attempt to win some benevolence which he did.


Gavin will spend quite a bit of time with remote control in hand judging by his commitment to reviewing some of the meatier incidents that unfolded. Diarmuid Connolly's red card for a late incident with Lee Keegan, who was booked, will be central to any reflection.

"I'll have to have a look at it. It would be very unfair of me to comment. Joe (McQuillan) made the decision based on whatever information he received. He made that call, as he did for the black cards and some other cards that might not have been given. We'll have to have a look at all those."

The free-count once again went against them though not on the scale of their quarter-final against Fermanagh, prompting Gavin to, somewhat curiously, suggest that they have come to accept that now.

"We've accepted that that's the case. One thing that we can't control. We are practising the art of tackling very hard in our sessions, we believe we are doing it the right way but it's just one of those things that we are going through at the moment. Hopefully we'll come out on the right side of it."

Surely he needs to be shouting a lot louder than that though, if it is the case.

Both sides can claim advantage this week for different reasons but Stephen Cluxton's kick-out is an area for Mayo to re-assess.

Having conceded all 10 first half kick-outs Mayo pressed higher and harder after the break to put pressure on and yield better results.

"You try zone marking or you press up. You leave the zones free? They had four men in their full-back line in the first half, then you leave the zones free," explained Connelly afterwards.

"It's whether or which, and we felt the latter was the one to cover, the zones. That's the way it was today, it may be a case next week that they will have to press up. Today? I know it doesn't look well from a supporter's point of view but it's a 72- or 74-minute game and it's the end of that which counts. We thought that was the best policy."

The experience of last year's replay, he felt, would help. "Maybe there are things last year that they might have done differently. Now we have the chance to do that."

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