Tuesday 25 September 2018

Peter Canavan: O'Shea shines in quarterback role but Mayo still have issues

Talisman moving well in new position but it feels like Rochford is running out of bodies

Aidan O’Shea’s role has changed once again this season. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Aidan O’Shea’s role has changed once again this season. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Peter Canavan

The 'Newbridge or nowhere' campaign means it has been a messy week for Kildare and Mayo.

The row has been well covered elsewhere but, from my point of view, the GAA didn't cover themselves in glory with the way they handled the venue row and forced Kildare into a corner.

It was finally settled on Wednesday and Kildare won the battle but we'll have to wait and see the long-term repercussions of their decision to take Croke Park on so publicly. Relations there are surely strained and there might be no winners in the long term.

Still, somewhere beneath all the noise and recriminations there's the potential for a brilliant football match to break out. And, if anything, the venue row adds another layer to an already intriguing encounter that sees both counties put their seasons on the line.

I would have fancied Mayo as soon as the teams were paired together but Kildare really have a cause to get behind now. There's been plenty of talk around Cian O'Neill since the Carlow defeat and whether he's in his final days as manager but this should have galvanised them.

If they can use the events of this week in the right way then they'll have a fighting chance going down the home straight because they certainly have the footballers to hurt Mayo. For whatever reason they haven't been playing to their potential to this point.

There's a certain pressure on those players now to stand up for their manager in the way he did for them. If they can pull it all together and deliver a big performance, things could take off for them. They'd be just one step from a place in the 'Super 8s' then and that would give their season a totally different complexion.

And Kildare have a real chance because it's hard to get away from the feeling that Mayo might be a little vulnerable just now. Not for the first time over the last few seasons, they diced with death against Tipperary.

You can only speculate as to what might have happened if they didn't get that slice of good fortune with James Durcan's goal in Semple Stadium. And since that game it has been confirmed that Seamus O'Shea has joined Tom Parsons on the injury list, meaning their first-choice midfielders are sidelined.

So Stephen Rochford will have to shuffle the deck again. Of all the managers of the top counties, he can probably afford it least but I don't see him changing the role he has found for Aidan O'Shea.

In previous seasons, O'Shea has popped up all over the field in what looked like something of a free role. This year he's been much more withdrawn, playing in a quarterback role of sorts. It suits Mayo because it lets their brilliant attacking backs off the leash.

O'Shea stays home and Paddy Durcan, Keith Higgins, Colm Boyle and Lee Keegan get on with the business of attacking. There are few better in the business than those men at getting forward and creating overlaps. They can bomb on in the knowledge O'Shea will mind the house. It's an interesting role for him, considering he started out life in the forwards. O'Shea is something of a conundrum for a manager because he's good at many different parts of the game yet doesn't fit neatly into any of the traditional positions.

Rochford has found one for him and it brings one of the strongest parts of his game into play - his tackling - and Mayo are reaping the rewards of that. Before the Tipperary game I went through a few clips of him on Sky, showing him making big interventions against Galway.

At one stage, he's back helping out Chris Barrett who is getting a tough time from Damien Comer. Another clip shows him making a brilliant hit on Tom Flynn to turn him over, just when it looked like a road to goal was about to open up on him. On another occasion he stays in the tackle long enough to force a speed merchant like Eamonn Brannigan to turn back. Every turnover gave Mayo the platform to attack.

But if they have found a role for O'Shea, Rochford has his work cut out in other areas of the pitch. His team selection this weekend will be very interesting. Diarmuid O'Connor did a fine job around the middle when he came on against Tipperary.

Keegan has played there too but it feels a little like Mayo are playing musical chairs and that when the music stops, they'll be left standing. They need all their best players firing. At the moment they are struggling to get them all on the pitch.

That said, I don't think the music will stop for them this weekend. This will be tight but Mayo know how to win tight games. On the other hand, Kildare have been on the wrong side of a few. But looking further down the track, I don't think Rochford has found what he needed to in attack since last year's All-Ireland final.

He's put plenty of minutes into the likes of Cian Hanley and James Durcan but they aren't natural finishers, while Cillian O'Connor and Andy Moran have yet to find their form of last year. And when you look at the other contenders, they have real firepower.

Shane Walsh and Damien Comer are doing it for Galway. Donegal have lost Paddy McBrearty which admittedly is a savage blow but they have found Jamie Brennan while Dublin's forwards have been doing it for years now.

That's for a little further down the line. Mayo will do what they do and survive this weekend but they know they still have questions to answer.

* * * * *

Around this time 15 years ago, Tyrone's historic summer was just taking off. And last Friday night the Derrylaughan club gave us the chance to recreate one of those great days when the Tyrone team of 2003 took on the all-conquering Armagh side that won Sam Maguire in 2002.

Needless to say, the game was played at a leisurely pace. And despite the fact that Owen Mulligan somehow managed to look even younger than he did back in '03, Francie Bellew managed to keep him scoreless. The game was played in very friendly manner - with two exceptions. Justin McNulty was living proof that old habits die hard when he saw Seán Cavanagh running through the middle and took the chance to put him down. The groans from the crowd were an indicator of how unexpected it was.

The law of the jungle still exists, however, and now Justy was a marked man. Seán might not be the flavour of the month in Tyrone just now but Kevin Hughes showed that old loyalties run deep. And when McNulty came raiding up field, he put him down on behalf of his old midfield partner. It was a great occasion and in the manner of many of those types of games, it ended in the only way it could - a draw!

Irish Independent

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