Saturday 24 February 2018

Being big Aidan O'Shea: A year less ordinary for Breaffy’s Beefy

Aidan O'Shea celebrates beating Kerry in the semi-final replay and (inset) poses for a photograph with a fan
Aidan O'Shea celebrates beating Kerry in the semi-final replay and (inset) poses for a photograph with a fan
Frank Roche

Frank Roche

ONCE upon a time, John Malkovich starred in a movie called, aptly enough, Being John Malkovich. It was funny, quirky, and more than a little weird.

Only not quite as strange as Aidan O’Shea’s footballing year.

In years to come, especially if it all ends on a suitably climactic note on Sunday, this may also make it onto celluloid. Being Aidan O’Shea ... coming to a theatre near you soon.

It started last January with an injury - playing basketball.

Who will win the All Ireland football final?

A general view of the pre-match parade ahead of the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay match between Dublin and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

We then had our first ‘hero returns’ audition, barrelling in off the bench to transform the dynamic of an end-of-league home tie with Donegal that had been slipping beyond Mayo.

There followed the most surreal of sub-plots - ‘Selfiegate’.

This being an action movie, we then veered from Apocalypse Now (Galway in June) to From Here to Eternity (Mayo’s back door odyssey) and it will all culminate on Sunday (barring another sequel!) in what some sceptics have dubbed Mayo’s Mission Impossible.

We almost forgot the most hyped plot twist of all: ‘Aidan O’Shea, my life as a full-back.’

Kieran Donaghy connects with the head of Aidan O’Shea in an incident which saw the Kerryman sent off. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO
Kieran Donaghy connects with the head of Aidan O’Shea in an incident which saw the Kerryman sent off. Photo: James Crombie/INPHO

For a player whose ankle was in a moon boot as the league started and who entered the championship as a sub because of an ongoing groin issue, O’Shea has never been out of the headlines. He has generated more column inches than anyone bar Diarmuid Connolly.

And, most of the time, it wasn’t even his fault.

Especially when it came to ‘Selfiegate’. It all kicked off in May because Bernard Flynn, the legendary Royal-turned-pundit, told the RTÉ GAA podcast about an incident at the end of a Mayo/Meath challenge match.

As Mayo players formed a circle, he said O’Shea stood apart, signing autographs for kids. “He decided to come into the ring when all the photographs were finished,” Flynn expanded.

“They did a warm-down and the same thing happened. The whole team did the warm-down and, ten yards away, he proceeded to have photographs and selfies and what not. He was allowed to do his own thing. I stood back in amazement.”

Flynn’s depiction of a footballer playing to his own rules drew stinging rebukes from, among others, O’Shea’s former boss, James Horan. The man himself addressed the issue in July, telling Newstalk how he stayed off social media for a long time afterwards.

He also stoutly defended his stance on politeness to young GAA fans, “whether it’s a club game in the top end of Mayo, or an inter-county game or some kid walking up the street and they are looking for a picture".

By then, O’Shea was fit again and doing more than most to keep Mayo’s flickering dream alive. He belied fitness doubts to play the full game against Derry, extra-time included.

20 August 2017; Aidan O'Shea of Mayo following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kerry and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
20 August 2017; Aidan O'Shea of Mayo following the GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match between Kerry and Mayo at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

He was wrongly overlooked for RTÉ’s Man of the Match prize; a week later he was their choice after another comeback, this time against Clare.

Another towering display followed against Cork, bringing Mayo back to Croke Park, where O’Shea played his part (especially on day two) in the belated dismissal of Roscommon.

And then he found himself on the edge of his own square against Kerry. There to exorcise the ghost of Kieran Donaghy.

O’Shea’s versatility is well known but here he had a window of just 13 days. Actually less, for Stephen Rochford has since clarified that management were coming around to the idea eight days beforehand.

It almost backfired, with Kerry switching tactical tack to ground warfare. O’Shea is renowned for his brilliant tackling, less so for his athleticism and agility. Donaghy exposed his suspect tracking instincts - and a variety of pundits went to town, not on the player but his embattled manager.

But Rochford stuck to his guns, tweaked O’Shea’s replay brief so that he marked Donaghy for long spells but also rotated into midfield to bring his influence to bear.

It worked. And now Dublin are left guessing where O’Shea will feature on Sunday. The only certainty, it seems, is that he won’t be full-back. But will it be midfield, sweeping just behind, on the ‘40’, full-forward - or all four at different times?

O’Shea observers have noted improvements in his decision-making, off-loading and shot selection (he’s hit 0-7 from just nine shots this summer).

But his season, as ever, will be defined by how he fares on the biggest stage. He has suffered, at times, in Dublin’s vaunted company. Buck that trend and Being Aidan O’Shea could be set for the ultimate happy ending.

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