Sunday 20 January 2019

Top-flight status too important to let go - Aidan O'Shea

Aidan O’Shea
Aidan O’Shea
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Their ultimate saviour Kevin McLoughlin may have been allowed a generous helping of steps before he pulled the trigger in spectacular fashion, some of his colleagues may have been cynical enough to cause sufficient disruption to delay the kick-out and break any potential momentum for Donegal to scramble a winner but, as a means to an end, their stirring finish in Ballybofey has sufficiently changed the mood music for Mayo football for the next seven weeks.

In Mayo, there are always highs and lows and very little in between.

Placement in a lower division for the first time since 1997 wouldn't have necessarily derailed them but in advance of their biggest game for many years against old rivals Galway on May 13, a Galway team that is this week preparing for an Allianz Division 1 league final on the back of six wins and a draw with All-Ireland champions Dublin, their preparations could well have been contaminated by a fresh injection of pessimism.

Drawing in such dramatic circumstances to preserve the longest record of Division 1 football for any county - despite being so poor for large swatches of the campaign - may not seem that big in the greater scheme of things but it has helped to switch the dial and was a prime motivating factor last week, Aidan O'Shea admitted.


They have a pedigree of more than two decades of Division 1 football and that was something worth pursuing, even with their backs pressed so firmly against the wall again, following on from their escape from the clutches of Division 2 last year when they plucked wins against Tyrone and Donegal in their last two games to survive.

"It's all I've known as a young fella watching Mayo and the same playing it, so we said that coming up even with players missing we felt we had an opportunity here - win, draw or whatever to stay up," said O'Shea.

"We really wanted to grasp that and we didn't want to be going down to Division 2. I'm only passing through, a couple of us will be gone in a couple of years and some of the younger lads stood up there which is great. They need to continue that on and stay in Division 1 football for as long as possible," said the Breaffy man of their top-flight legacy.

"(When) MacNiallais kicked a point (to make it 0-13 to 0-10), it wasn't looking promising but we had created chances throughout the game and missed them. But the way the lads had been playing, Paddy (Durcan) and Eoin (O'Donoghue) came up and got that big one. Paddy was sniping as well and I knew we had a chance. Once we got them back to one, I fancied us to get the draw and I'm just delighted we got it."

Mayo were without five All-Stars - Lee Keegan, Cillian O'Connor Keith Higgins, Brendan Harrison and Chris Barrett, in addition to Donal Vaughan so the importance of Conor Loftus, Eoin O'Donoghue and Stephen Coen making the impact they did when the pressure was on was magnified and contrary to the view that Mayo will have to resort to the same faces this summer again.

Loftus looked the part on Sunday when Andy Moran faded while O'Donoghue looked strong and came forward to kick that second last score under pressure.

There is also the prospect - albeit a much less likely one - of Cian Hanley making fast progress in the months ahead after his return from AFL.

"We always thought they were there, people just don't like to mention it. Stephen Coen was excellent, Conor Loftus kicked massive scores under pressure and Eoin O'Donoghue kicked a crucial one. These guys are good players and they are coming through and they were the leaders."

O'Shea said the league panned out just as he expected it would for Mayo.

"I think I did an interview last October and I predicted exactly what was going to happen in the league and it turned out exactly that way," he said.

"We never quite make it easy on ourselves, especially coming in after beating Kildare with a really poor performance against Tyrone last week.

"We didn't even show up so it's the same kind of rhetoric every year. We just know that with the logistics of everything going on with us, the injuries and players to come back, that it's always difficult in the league. Now we've got seven weeks to really get to work and everyone knows that game on May 13 is a biggie."

O'Shea feels a relatively poor league, despite the finish and its consequences, doesn't change much for them.

"We've been here before in terms of poor league campaigns and it doesn't really change anything for us.

"Usually, we have a lot of players coming back at this time of year but the opposite has happened this time. What we have done against Galway in the last couple of years hasn't been good enough, they've had the upper hand on us and the reality is we have to come up with something more inventive and try and beat them.

"They've beaten us in the last three competitive games (four including the recent Connacht League match) and that says enough of it."

Lee Keegan is unlikely to be available until the end of June after a lengthier recovery was flagged by Rochford after Sunday's game but the other five are all expected back over the next two weeks.

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Irish Independent

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