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O'Shea switch can light fuse for Mayo to end wait – McStay


Keith Higgins, Mayo

Keith Higgins, Mayo

Keith Higgins, Mayo

The smallest changes could make the biggest difference to Mayo finally getting over the line next September, former player Kevin McStay has argued.

McStay remains adamant that Mayo are still best placed to halt Dublin's seemingly inexorable roll to a second successive All-Ireland football title.

But subtle positional changes and a fully fit Cillian O'Connor can package Mayo a little differently in the months ahead.

"There won't be much different about them, maybe that's the strength of it in one way. They are not doing a lot wrong. Okay, they lost another final and that's going to be hard in its own way to face," said McStay.

"They lost it playing poorly. They didn't play well against Dublin and Dublin didn't play particularly well either.

"If Dublin look like they're pulling away – and we could debate that too – probably the next best equipped team to have a cut at them are Mayo. They have the power, the athleticism, the pace, the experience and they are very well organised and drilled."

The process of change required, the 'Sunday Game' analyst believes, is already under way.

"They have put Keith Higgins back. That will improve the defence. It has to," he said.

"They are playing around with the idea of Aidan O'Shea at centre-forward because they can now. Jason Gibbons had such an excellent league, a serious league, as good as any midfielder I saw – and I was at a lot of Division 1 games.

"They have the flexibility now to push Aidan up. That could be it, the thing that lights the fuse, you don't know.

"Remember Cillian O'Connor, in fairness to the guy, he was badly injured, he probably shouldn't have played in it (All-Ireland final). He was strapped up and said 'I can play'. Imagine his head in the month coming up to it, the biggest game of your life and you are dragging this shoulder around the place.

"(Colm) Boyle is in the middle (centre-back), (Donie) Vaughan is on the wing. They are saying 'your natural instinct is to go up' and you are popping up with a goal and a couple of points. That's good but we needed someone at home down the middle, so now we're going to put Boyle there to keep the middle a little bit more solid.

"In fairness to James Horan and his management team they're analysing this, watching it very closely, and looking for those inches, millimetres that could swing it and Mayo won't be far off."

Mayo step out for their Connacht semi-final against a rapidly improving Roscommon, who they beat by 12 points in the corresponding game last season.

But McStay, who has a strong familiarity with Roscommon football, is certain the challenge will be so much stiffer 12 months on and that will benefit the reigning provincial champions.

He insists that Roscommon have potentially a better forward line than any other county in Connacht.

"Senan Kilbride, Donie Shine, Diarmuid Murtagh and Cathal Cregg – no other county in Connacht has four forwards of that talent," he said.

"That is a fact. If you have four forwards of that talent and ability and they can perform at the level they need to perform... That remains to be seen this summer, we might see it, it may happen."

McStay believes his own county have accepted certain realities about the make-up of their own attack.

"Mayo are never going to win the All-Ireland on the basis of a star forward. It's going to be the sum of their parts. They're going to get enough from somewhere to win it, a midfielder who can get two or three points, half-backs who can get a couple more," he said.


"For 40 years I'd argue Mayo haven't had an absolute national-standard forward. Maybe Ciaran McDonald was the last – we can debate that too.

"We are in good company. Lots of counties don't have them. The Padraic Joyce type of player, 'Gooch', Bernard Brogan, Trevor Giles, Oisin McConville, top, top heavy score-getters when they are on their game.

"I think their management have accepted that, and that's the way they are being drilled so that everybody makes a big contribution to winning their games, so they are going to win it as a team.

"They are not going to win it playing pretty decent and having two special performers.

"It's probably why Mayo haven't made the breakthrough because they haven't had that top, top forward. It is cruel, it's tough.

"They are a county that produced so many bloody good footballers, midfielders and top-class defenders."

* Cavan GAA is mourning the death of on one of the members of their last All-Ireland title winning teams in 1952, Paul Fitzsimons. Paul was left half-forward in the drawn game against Meath that year and had previously been a member of the 1948 squad. Originally from Maghera, he was a selector with the county team during the 1960s.

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