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Dublin: 12 °C Friday 19 October, 2018

'I switched social media off during some of the stupid stuff that happened earlier in the year'

Aidan O’Shea chats to The42 about a busy year in the spotlight.

Aidan O’Shea Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

ROY KEANE ONCE admitted he mistrusts serenity. As a player he thrived in chaos. That feeling of being on edge helped him get the best out of himself.

When life was calm, Keane’s instinct was to set a cat amongst the pigeons. That’s what made him so intruiging.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is the best example of a superstar who likes to create havoc every now and again to keep things interesting.

His passive aggressive social media posts tend to send the media into meltdown. Recently James posted a cryptic ‘Arthur’ meme on his Instagram account with the caption ‘Mood…’


A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

With 34 million followers on Instagram, the NBA veteran is well aware of the impact his posts can have. At that point in the season the Cavaliers had lost 6 of their first 10 games.

While the TV talking heads in the US discussed the possible meaning behind the mysterious meme, the spotlight shone brighter on the Cavs. James denied any intent behind the post, but it did seem to spark his team into life.

Barely a month later they reeled off their 13th straight win in the NBA and put the slow start firmly in the rearview mirror. Mission accomplished.

Like Keane and James, there’s always a feeling that Mayo could self-combust at anytime, but they generally perform best when their backs are against the wall.

No team thrives in the chaos like Mayo. For the past couple of seasons, they’ve taken the scenic route to the All-Ireland final and became the GAA’s great entertainers in the process.

Kieran Donaghy clashes with Aidan O’Shea which resulted in a red card Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Closer inspection of Mayo’s 2017 campaign shows several under-par performances off-broadway before they produced a few gleaming displays under the bright lights in Croke Park.

They fell to Galway in Connacht and scraped past both Derry and Cork after extra-time, and kept Clare at arm’s length after a dreadful start, to make the last eight.

“It’s hard to (explain),” Aidan O’Shea tells The42. “We were never really consistent for a long period in those games. We could have lost to Derry, could have lost to Cork down there when they came back late in the game.

“We just left teams back in the game, conceded bad goals and we were probably figuring ourselves out a little bit as well. Players coming back from injury, we had boys suspended in certain games.

“It’s hard to understand why we can’t maintain the level we maybe do against a Dublin or Kerry. Maybe it’s a mental thing, I’m not quite sure.

“It’s something we need to figure out because with the number of games coming this season in terms of the Super 8s and the Connacht championship, we need to be able to perform equally against the top teams as we do against the lower teams.”

A replay was needed to overcome both Roscommon and Kerry, but they obliterated both teams on the second time of asking. A powerful All-Ireland final display against Dublin followed, as did another crushing one-point defeat.

As well as the close calls, Mayo have found themselves embroiled in several controversies over the past two years. The problem is they only to seem to happen in Mayo.

Aidan O’Shea meets fans after the game Source: James Crombie/INPHO

O’Shea found himself caught up in a couple of high-profile storms, although none were neccesarily self-inflicted wounds.

From his supposed ‘dive’ against Fermanagh in the 2016 qualifiers, to the infamous Noel Connelly-Pat Holmes interview last year that singled the Breaffy star out as a disprutive influence in the squad, he found himself central to many of the stories emenating from the Mayo camp.

O’Shea then hurt his ankle playing basketball in the winter which put him out for most of the 2017 league and opened him up to more flack. The ‘Selfie-Gate’ furore arrived just before the start of the championship and brought another unnecessary distraction upon the county.

His positioning at full-back on Kieran Donaghy for the All-Ireland semi-final, and repositioning there in the replay, ensured O’Shea was one of the most discussed about GAA players this year.

Unlike James, O’ Shea doesn’t necessarily enjoy being in the limelight. He’s been a public figure since he was still in school when, in debut campaign with Mayo, he wrote an Irish Times column during his Leaving Cert.

He’s not the individualistic player he’s often potraited to be and contributes far more to a team performance than simple numbers like scores or assists would suggest.

After went trial with AFL side Western Bulldogs as a teenager, the club compiled a report on his strengths and weaknesses. They gave him high marks for “mental skills, competitiveness, ability to build relationships and resilience.”

They added that he was a good communicator with a strong work ethic. Not characteristics you’d associate with a selfish player.

O’Shea lives at home in Breaffy, and works as a purchaser at a pharmaceutical company in nearby Westport. He admits when the stinging criticism comes, it’s his family who are most affected by it.

Aidan O’Shea Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But it’s clear that his ninth season with Mayo has been his most testing in the green and red.

Experience has taught him to avoid social media during the chaotic times.

“This year I switched it off during some of the stupid stuff that happened earlier in the year,” he says. “I just turned it off because it was a different stupid story coming out everyday.

“It was probably my first year doing that because usually things aren’t that crazy. It’s something I didn’t engage in and maybe it did me a bit of good. But it’s not a big deal really.

“It’s not that I’d be reading it. I can decide on what I want to follow on social media but you see some of the stuff being retweeted from people and some of the stuff was just crazy earlier in the year.

“It was just stupid stuff so I said I’m better off. Instead of turning on my phone and seeing 40 notifications on Twitter, I was like I don’t need to see them so I just turn it off.”

Aidan O'Shea Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

In November, he completed the rare achievement of winning a third All-Star in a different position, a record he’s “very proud of.”

Aidan O’Shea’s All-Stars
2013: Midfield
2015: Full-forward
2017: Centre-forward

“It was a frustrating year because I missed most of the league because I rolled my ankle. I had a groin issue coming into the Sligo game and then losing to Galway was a disaster. I had no time to really think about think about it and I just needed to get back on the pitch and try contribute as best I could.

“It was nice to get an All-Star at the end of the year, but we pitted ourselves well coming down the stretch aganist Kerry and Dublin. We struggled right through the summer in games that we should have been winning a little bit more comfortably.

“That’s my third All-Star but I’ve no All-Ireland medals and that’s the real goal. Nice to win an All-Star but overall a disapointing year.”

In 2018, Mayo will go again in search of Sam Maguire, but before then there are learnings that can be taken from 2017.

O’Shea says it was a “very enjoyable” experience to captain his country for the International Rules series in Australia. Always looking for that edge, he identified the high-pressing game of the Australians as something that might be useful in Gaelic football.

Aidan O’Shea Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“In fairness if you look at Kerry last year and in 2016, and Dublin did it to Tyrone in this year’s semi-final. They did something similar, they were willing to leave players close to their own goal and unmarked and took that risk. I do think that’s taken from the AFL.

“We’re seeing more and more of that press in our game, especially with the kickouts and the marks. We now have to kick the ball outside the 21, in the future it might go to the 45 and then all of a sudden you might see it a lot more.

“They zoned up big time in terms of pressing us. Defensively when they dropped off they were in zones as well to put themselves in a position where we couldn’t win marks in front of goal.”

What do Mayo need to improve to get them over the line in 2018? The worrying thing for Stephen Rochford is that of Mayo’s six All-Stars, O’Shea is the lone player under the age of 30. New players need to be harvested and groomed during the league.

Alan Dillon’s retirement shouldn’t affect them too much as his influence dwindled over the years, while the Rochford’s decision to remain in charge for a further three years is a positive move for the county.

In terms of O’Shea’s own game, there’s only one thing he has his sights on next year.

“An All-Ireland medal would be nice, that’d be a good improvement. There’s always ways and means of improving. I haven’t really thought about 2018 season right now. I’m going to take a break, enjoy Christmas.

“I’m as motivated and looking forward to next year as much as ever. While I’m fit and able to play you’ve got to enjoy and embrace it. So I’m just looking forward to it.

“We’re going to Kuala Lumpur in January (on a team holiday) so we’re heading there after Christmas. Another trip away it’ll be nice for sure.”

It won’t be long before the madness begins once again.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

‘There was tears in the eyes, it was highly emotional stuff’ – Galway’s All-Ireland breakthrough

Triple life! Flying between two countries for inter-county football, netball and life as a doctor 

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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