Irish captaincy a fitting honour for Aidan O'Shea after a whirlwind year under the spotlight

O’Shea will captain the Irish International Rules side in Australia next month.

Aidan O'Shea Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

AIDAN O’SHEA STARTED out the year by playing basketball in January with EJ Sligo All-Stars, and he’ll conclude it by captaining Ireland against Australia in the International Rules series.

In between he fit in a good deal of Gaelic football with Mayo, including another narrow All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin.

Off the field he found himself embroiled in several controversies, although none were self-inflicted. All the while the Breaffy star kept his counsel and refused to be drawn into a slagging match.

Aidan O'Shea Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Former Mayo joint managers Pat Holmes and Noel Connelly singled out O’Shea to a shocking degree during an interview with a national newspaper last December.

He was still being quizzed by the media about those claims six months later, but simply said it was “not the time or place” to get into a response.

Bernard Flynn took aim in May, abhorring him on a podcast after he posed for selfies with young fans following a challenge game in Meath.

In July, O’Shea was asked about ‘Selfie-Gate.’ He responded: “Whether it’s a club game in the top end of Mayo, or an inter-county game or some kid walking up the street and they are looking for a picture, I’ll do what I asked when I was 10 or 11 years of age and I’ll be obliging when I can and I’ll always to that.”

Aidan O'Shea Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

In the meantime he battled ankle and groin injuries as he fought his way back into the Mayo side for their run through the qualifiers. Storming performances followed against Derry, Clare and Cork to bring Mayo back to Croke Park.

Then came Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final and Stephen Rochford’s famous decision to employ O’Shea at full-back on Kieran Donaghy.

Having had just 13 days to prepare for his new role, O’Shea won the battle of the skies, but Donaghy claimed the war on the ground. Admittedly it wasn’t his finest hour, but Mayo survived to fight another day and Rochford stuck with his guns the next day out.

He rotated into midfield for brief stages but largely quelled Donaghy’s influence in the replay. The Austin Stacks man’s day was summed up with his late red card a punch on his Breaffy marker, a desperate final act of frustration.

A fine All-Ireland performance against Dublin followed for O’Shea, particularly in the first-half where he fetched ball and distributed it with quality. Once again Mayo fell agonisingly short, but he stood up and was counted.

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

It’s been quite the year under the spotlight for a 27-year-old, who earlier today was confirmed as captain of the Irish International Rules side to face Australia Down Under next month.

“I was a little bit caught by surprise,” he said at the announcement in Croke Park today.

“I’d just asked work whether I could have the time off and then 10 minutes later Joe rang to say he was going to name me as captain.

“Delighted to be asked and then I seen in the paper last week the list of players who have captained their country. Delighted to be asked and it’s a huge honour.”

International Rules captains since its relaunch in 1998

  • 2017 – Aidan O’Shea (Mayo)
  • 2015 – Bernard Brogan (Dublin)
  • 2014 – Michael Murphy (Donegal)
  • 2013 – Michael Murphy (Donegal)
  • 2011 – Stephen Cluxton (Dublin)
  • 2010 – Steven McDonnell (Armagh)
  • 2008 – Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone)
  • 2006 – Kieran McGeeney (Armagh)
  • 2005 – Padraic Joyce (Galway)
  • 2004 - Padraic Joyce (Galway)
  • 2003 – Graham Canty (Cork)
  • 2002 – Seamus Moynihan (Kerry)
  • 2001 – Anthony Tohill (Derry)
  • 2000 – Trevor Giles (Meath)
  • 1999 – John McDermott (Meath)
  • 1998 – John McDermott (Meath)

Aidan O'Shea Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Then O’Shea was asked if he had many sleepless nights since the Dublin defeat – his fourth All-Ireland final loss in six years.

He replied: “It’s obviously disappointing you go back to work and you focus on work and your attention span drifts off very easily because you’re obviously hugely disappointed – it means a lot to you.

“You invest a lot of time in it and then when you come up short, it’s obviously hugely disappointing. If it didn’t influence your life, it wouldn’t really matter. Obviously, naturally, when you go about your daily business, it floats in and out.

“Things move on very quickly, other things in life are very important too – work, club, family. Things have to move on.”

One line from his response stood out above the rest.

Other things in life are very important too.

Back in June a good friend and clubmate of O’Shea, David Gavin, was reported missing in Canada after getting into difficulty in waters at Kinbasket Lake.

Aidan O’Shea Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

His body was never recovered, despite the weeks of searching by his family. A jar containing sand and water from the lake was brought home as a symbol for a moving memorial Mass in Castlebar in August.

O’Shea and Gavin were close – they attended national school together and played club football alongside one another until Gavin emigrated to Canada.

When O’Shea captained Breaffy to the Mayo Division 1 league title 10 days ago, he paid an emotional tribute to two late members of the club in his acceptance speech – Gavin and local 12-year-old girl Faye Lavin.

A month before Gavin drowned, Lavin was taken ill after an U12 game with Breaffy ladies and tragically died shortly after.

On November 12, he’ll enjoy the distinct honour of captaining his country in Adelaide against Australia.

After a whirlwind year at the centre of Irish sport, it’s a fitting privilege for the Breaffy man.

No doubt David Gavin and Faye Lavin will be looking down with pride.

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Kevin O'Brien

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