Monday 16 September 2019

'What you put into it is what you get out'

Kerry’s Seán O’Shea. Photo: Sportsfile
Kerry’s Seán O’Shea. Photo: Sportsfile

Seán McGoldrick

Seán O'Shea has always been in a hurry. He sat his Leaving Certificate when he was 16; made his championship debut for Kerry when he was 20, and turned up an hour and a half early for his first training session with the squad in 2017.

"I drove to Killarney on my own," he says. "I wasn't going to be late anyway. In was nerve-wrecking enough in fairness. I went into the dressing room and there was nobody there. Then about five minutes later Eamonn (Fitzmaurice) came in and shook hands with me and that settled me down a little bit and I was fine."

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The Kenmare-born footballer had been earmarked for greatness for a long time. In just his 12th game for Kerry, he is aiming to add a Celtic Cross to the two All-Ireland minor medals and the Sigerson Cup he has already secured, although he only celebrated his 21st birthday in July.

Another famous south Kerry footballer, Declan O'Sullivan, was his GAA role model. "I was always a big fan, particularly the way he played and carried himself on the field."

He was only four when he attended his first All-Ireland final in 2002 when Kerry lost to Armagh. "My only recollection of the game is being carried from the pitch in tears by my father." O'Shea has happier memories of his next final four years later when Kerry demolished Mayo in a decider for the second time in three seasons.

O'Shea played a lot of underage football along with his only sibling Darragh, who is 17 months older. From an early age he was the designated free-taker. "It always seemed to come naturally to me," he says.

But its constant practice which separate competent free-takers from exceptional ones. O'Shea is coy about revealing how much time he spends perfecting his place kicking skills, saying he has never given much thought to the number of hours involved.

"Of course I practice them regularly. When I was younger and wasn't as busy and training wasn't as tough I had more time to go to the pitch with friends and a bag of balls. We might stay there for two or three hours. You just can't go out on the day and hope that things go well for you. What you put into it is what your get out of it.

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"You never get a kick in a game that you haven't taken in training and that's where the confidence comes from," said O'Shea, who has scored 1-38, including 27 frees and two 45s, in Kerry's six matches en route to their first decider since 2015.

Along with Kerry colleagues Brian Ó Beaglaoich, Killian Spillane, Graham O'Sullivan and David Shaw he featured on the UCC team managed by Billy Morgan which won the Sigerson Cup in the spring. He hit 0-7 in their 0-16 to 1-9 final win over St Mary's from Belfast.

"Billy is a great fella. It's good working with him. He has great time for any footballer going through UCC. He doesn't do favourites. He treats everybody equally regardless of where they're from."

Even though he is still a rookie, he's already being subjected to the dark arts of defensive play with markers blocking his runs both on and off the ball. But he rejects the view that that being a marked man is frustrating.

"I suppose you have to enjoy that too when it comes your way. You have to take on whatever challenge you meet. There are other things you can do if you are not getting on the ball to try and influence the game like trying to create space for others."

Stopping Dublin from achieving sporting immortality is not on Kerry's radar he insists.

"For us it's a once off game; it's not history. We just want to go up and hopefully win one All-Ireland because a lot of our fellas wouldn't have one.

"Dublin have a fantastic team. They've won four-in-a-row and there is a reason for that. We know we have to be on top of our game. But we will go up and give it a wrestle and hopefully that will be enough for us."

In 1975, another Kenmare man Mickey 'Ned' O'Sullivan captained Kerry to a surprise All-Ireland win over title holders Dublin. He famously watched the trophy being presented to his deputy Pat Spillane from a bed in the old Richmond Hospital after being knocked out in the first half.

O'Shea would like to become only the second Kenmare player since - his club colleague Stephen O'Brien won a medal in 2014 - to win a Celtic Cross on his All-Ireland final debut. And he'd like to be present to witness the Sam Maguire Cup being handed over.

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