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'There's nothing like the Dubs to focus Mayo minds' - Aidan O'Shea insists 'hard lessons' learned

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Aidan O'Shea will make his 70th Senior Football Championship appearance for Mayo against Sligo on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Aidan O'Shea will make his 70th Senior Football Championship appearance for Mayo against Sligo on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Aidan O'Shea will make his 70th Senior Football Championship appearance for Mayo against Sligo on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

"One-sided at the moment, anyway, unfortunately," Aidan O'Shea replies, when asked to describe the Mayo-Dublin rivalry that has set the football championship on fire so often in the last decade.

From a Mayo perspective, their view on the collisions with Dublin all depends on whether their glass is half-full or half-empty. Mayo never beat Dublin in the Jim Gavin era as he built a dynasty. But no one challenged them as much either.

Mayo have been the only team who could consistently operate at their altitude. On a few occasions, a grain of sand would have tipped the scale.

"We have learned lots," O'Shea says, reflecting on those near-misses. "Hard lessons, I'm afraid, but I think the concentration piece, the consequence from mistake, is more significant than against anybody else.

Mistakes

"You can't afford to make too many mistakes in possession or out of possession. Structurally, you need to stay pretty strong, whereas against other teams you probably can have a little bit of variability in that and your risks don't have the same level of consequence.

"From our perspective, we still want to be expressive and play our game but you need to taper that and understand when you're executing it that if you're not doing it correctly there's a punishment at the end of it when you're playing Dublin.

"In saying that, the way we're playing is that exciting, free-flowing game and we'll continue to do that because it suits us and it suits our skill-set best.

"From our group, a lot of them would not have played against the Dubs before so it's fresh for them and something different as well for the opposition."

O'Shea has thrived as Mayo captain and taken to a new role, that sees him spend more time at full-forward, well.

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James Horan's side look to have an extra edge in attack too. In their four championship games to date, the full-forward line of O'Shea, Tommy Conroy and Cillian O'Connor have hit 6-22 between them.

"I'm glad you included me in that scoring tally, in fairness," O'Shea laughs. "As I told Tommy and Cillian after the game, it was 4-14 between us (against Tipperary). Yeah, look the guys are going really well. They complement each other really well.

"Cillian, obviously that break he probably needed that for his own body. People outside our group wouldn't realise what he has done to put himself on a football pitch to try and put himself on a football pitch over the last five or six years to continue to contribute.

"To see him being free and being able to get out there and express himself the way he likes and being able to train week-in, week-out you see the fruits of it on the football pitch and what a player he is. I'm just delighted for him in that regard.

"Tommy, on the other side, he's just your kind of modern-day corner-forward, isn't he? He's got a bit of everything, he's got both feet and once he gets it he wants to go at you. He's a real eye for goal, he's a really good player and a really good addition for us."

But perhaps just as importantly, they have been able to apply huge pressure on defenders coming out with the ball as witnessed in the win over Tipperary when 3-6 came from turnovers.

"The group enjoy that side of the game; it's kind of part of the way we play. But it's also because of the transition from the traditional full-forward line, maybe 20 years ago it was not really their job.

"Now you are absolutely involved in the defence and you are as much responsible as what happens out the field as the scoring side, yeah, it is something that we discuss and talk about a lot. Definitely it is as much in the forefront of our mind as scoring and we take pride in it."

Dublin are unlikely to be as accommodating. Mayo led by two points at half-time in last year's All-Ireland semi-final only to be blown away in 12 extraordinary minutes.

"People's memory of it was that there was complete domination in that period. There was, I suppose, but we had opportunities in possession which we coughed up too easy and we did not get ourselves down the other end of the field to try and counter at all.

"We just kept coughing up possession and their execution in that period was sublime; Paul Mannion kicked a couple of scores from distance and from the wrong side. Yeah, look, it was a bit of a whirlwind couple of minutes . . ."

Lessons hard learned so? "The games have been unbelievable over the last decade, it's probably been the two teams that have had the biggest games in Croke Park. There's huge respect there for what they've achieved.

"They've been really close games and I think we bring the best out of each other in a lot of ways. We've probably not played very well at times in seasons and then we come to play Dublin and it brings the best out of us. There's nothing like the Dubs to focus the minds and I think that will be the case on Saturday."


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