'I was always geared to do this' - Aidan O'Shea
Star midfielder Aidan O'Shea embraces expectation as Mayo refuse to be cowed
OLD Mayo, new Mayo. Aidan O'Shea traces the development of the current Mayo team and notes how it mirrors his own.
Back in 2010, Mayo had endured their worst season in living memory. Defeat to Sligo, downed in Longford. Even John O'Mahony, a winner in two other counties, couldn't figure out how to get Mayo over the line.
O'Shea was lost then too. The poster boy of the minor team that had brought Tyrone's hotly fancied side to a replay in 2008 was out of form. Great things were expected of him. At 13, he lined out for Breaffy's minors, but he wasn't delivering any of that promise. Was the expectation too much?
"It wasn't expectation that was put on me, it was expectation I always had for myself," he says. "It was always something I wanted to do and I was always geared to do this. I was thrown in after minor and that wasn't anything less than I expected. I think I have dealt with it well.
"I had one disappointing year, but apart from that I have been happy with how the trajectory has been going."
As O'Shea was floundering, so were Mayo, but the club scene offered them James Horan and hope. Tommy Lyons was thought to be in a strong position for the job, but a week before the appointment of O'Mahony's successor, Horan guided Ballintubber to a first county title, which was enough to win him the recommendation of the executive.
"You always have self-doubt," insists O'Shea. "There was definitely that in 2010 when things weren't going well. I needed to have a look at myself and look at the things I was doing off the pitch and on the pitch, where I was going. James came in and things have been good. I have the right supports around me."
College life was good. So good in fact that he had to get home. Living the life of an inter-county footballer is too hard in the city.
"It's not that I don't like Dublin, I love Dublin but maybe for the wrong reasons," he says. "It wasn't that I would be out every night of the week, it's not like that at all. There's just too much ...
"Walking down the street, you could pop in for food here or there.
"And then if I wanted to go to the gym it might take an hour to get there and then you have to park the car and after the session it's too late to cook proper food.
"There were too many things that are hard to control and I didn't like it."
In the years under Horan, Mayo look transformed and at just 22, O'Shea is the leader. He made 12 clean takes from kick-outs in the quarter-final win over Donegal. He was less spectacular against Tyrone but delivered on the key components Mayo ask of him – linking play, covering back and winning turnovers.
"Richie McCaw (New Zealand rugby captain) says that there's three things he needs to do to play well and everything else is a bonus. As a midfielder I know what I need to do – it's broken down for me by my management team and everyone else in the team. When you fulfil those roles your performance will come."
O'Shea once dipped his toes in the AFL and went on trial with the Western Bulldogs. Later, Jason Akermanis – who made his name on this side of the world for his clashes with Peter Canavan in the International Rules series – would describe the Breaffy man as "fat and overweight".
O'Shea is now a nailed-on midfield All Star and a strong contender for Footballer of the Year following performances that have attracted the attention of Brian O'Driscoll.
Instead of going missing, Mayo are digging themselves out of holes they put themselves in. O'Shea conceded that in previous years, the bad start against Tyrone might have been enough to bury them.
"It was perfect for us. It made us think on the pitch. We were 0-6 to 0-2 down and we had to think our way out of it. Ten minutes before half-time was the winning of the game – we changed how we played, we settled and got a bit more composure. We missed a few chances but we haven't missed much all year," he says.
That confidence runs through the side and O'Shea. Notably, there has been no rush from the Mayo camp to push Dublin forward as favourites, a favoured move of GAA teams.
"When I started there was too much comfort in the 15. You made the 15 on the first day of the championship and that was it. Now, you see Cathal Carolan comes on and kicks an outrageous spinner against Tyrone, Richie Feeney does a job every day he comes on," he says.
"In midfield you have Barry (Moran) and Jason Gibbons. You know Barry, but you probably don't know Jason. If he was in any other county he'd be starting midfield. That's how strong the squad is."
The Monday after last year's All-Ireland final defeat to Donegal, Horan revealed that some of the players had already been onto him, looking for strength and conditioning programmes. O'Shea himself seeks motivation from the video of the game. A bad start was followed by 60 excellent minutes.
"There was a realisation after the game – and not take anything away from Donegal – that Jesus we let something slip there," he recalls.
"I don't know how many of the boys watched the game, I presumed a lot of them did but I have watched it a lot of times and it didn't take too long to get over because you realise that there is no reason why we can't be Donegal next year – and it has turned out that we have that opportunity."