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Inside O'Shea's dominant midfield display and his growing partnership with Ruane

Mayo’s centre-field pair were hugely influential in their Division 1 final defeat of Kerry.

MAYO’S FIRST LEAGUE title win since 2001 was another sign of the steady progress they’ve been making under James Horan since his return to the hot-seat.

James Horan celebrates James Horan elated at the final whistle. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Despite losing arguably the two games they’d have targeted this league campaign – at home to Galway and against Dublin in Croke Park – the spring could hardly have gone much better for Mayo.

They played Kerry off the park for long spells on Sunday and as Horan said after the game, they should have won by a lot more.  

There are still question marks over whether Mayo have the inside forwards to beat Dublin, but 22-year-old James Carr showed promise on his full debut and although he had a quiet game yesterday, Kevin McLoughlin has been performing well in the corner.

They’ve still got Cillian O’Connor to return from injury, plus Ryan O’Donoghue, the star forward of the U20 side that reached the All-Ireland final last summer who could be a real bolter in this year’s championship.

Cillian O'Connor Cillian O'Connor checks out the field before the game. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Aside from obvious mental benefits of lifting a trophy on Jones’ Road, it was a fitting conclusion to a productive league for Mayo. Horan unearthed two players likely to be part of his championship 15 – Matthew Ruane and Fionn McDonagh.

His constant rotation during the league helped him find the right positions for his key players. In Chris Barrett, Brendan Harrison and Keith Higgins, Mayo have the best full-back line in the country. Aside from lacking a bit of height, that trio are outstanding man-markers.

Having three players of such quality means Mayo can have a marauding half-back line and play with three inside forwards. The half-back axis of Patrick Duran-Lee Keegan-Donal Vaughan was superb, shutting down the Kingdom half-forwards and driving forward at every opportunity. 

Keegan and Durcan were heavily involved in the move that led to Diarmuid O’Connor’s crucial fisted goal that put Mayo three in front with five minutes left on the clock.

Aidan O'Shea celebrates Aidan O'Shea celebrates after the game. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Watching the performance of Breaffy pair Aidan O’Shea and Ruane at centre-field, it’s clear to see Horan has stumbled on his best midfield partnership. Getting the best out of O’Shea would have been high up on Horan’s list of priorities on his return to the job.

After up and down displays at centre-forward this year, O’Shea was moved to the middle alongside his clubmate for the round 6 clash against Kerry in Tralee. He hasn’t looked back since. 

Three dominant, powerful displays have followed in the role over the last three games, including two wins over Kerry, it’s obvious O’Shea has found his home for the remainder of the season. Playing at midfield suits his best qualities – his tackling, athleticism and range of passing. 

When O’Shea lines out at centre-forward, he tends to drop too deep which deprives Mayo of an outlet on the half-forward line when they break. Jason Doherty is a better fit at 11 and by playing at midfield, O’Shea isn’t marked as tightly so he can better influence the game. 

Mayo owned the ball for long spells on Sunday and much of that was down to the supremacy of O’Shea and Ruane over their direct opponents Jack Barry and Diarmuid O’Connor. 

O’Shea is the perfect foil for Ruane in that he can hold the middle, allowing his younger team-mate to be the runner in midfield. 

Mayo’s midfielders had 59 possessions between them, compared to the 42 from Kerry’s duo. O’Shea and Ruane also did a lot more damage with the ball, while the majority of Barry and O’Connor’s possessions came inside their own half. 


Some of O’Shea’s best work was on the defensive end. He’s one of the best tacklers in the game and he had no problem dropping deep to shield his defence.

O’Shea make ten tackles during the game and his turnover count was a highly impressive five. It meant that he was winning back possession on 50% of the challenges he put in which speaks to his strength and technique.

Aidan O’Shea tackle map 

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Six minutes into the game, the three-time All-Star made his first turnover. Tom O’Sullivan sized him up and tried to beat him for pace down the sideline, but O’Shea expertly shadowed the defender to the flank and stole away possession.

It led directly to Donie Vaughan’s goal chance that was brilliantly saved by Kerry goalkeeper Shane Ryan.

Deep inside his own 45 in the 14th minute, O’Shea stood Graham O’Sullivan up and forced him into spilling the ball.

Eight minutes before the break, David Clifford won a kick-pass in front of Harrison and peeled away towards the goals. Spotting the danger, O’Shea broke off from Gavin Crowley and moved across to Clifford.

He denied the All-Star corner-forward the space to cut inside on his left before putting in a challenge on that saw the ball spill away harmlessly for a wide. 


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His turnover on Tommy Walsh in the 40th minute led to a pacey Ruane breakaway that set-up another scoring chance for Mayo.


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His final turnover was high up the field on Mark Griffin, O’Shea’s second inside Kerry’s half, which started the move for O’Connor’s stunning outside the boot strike between the posts. 

The 28-year-old was Mayo’s heartbeat and almost all his possessions came down the middle channel where he can most impact games.

Aidan O’Shea possession map

Image uploaded from iOS (1)

He showed off his wide range of passing by completing seven of his 10 kicks, including one sublime ball that set-up James Carr’s goal chance early in the second-half.


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Ruane completed all six of his kick-passes, many of them ambitious deliveries into the full-forward line. 

He was the greater offensive threat of the pair, breaking forward to play a one-two with Keith Higgins for his point after 11 minutes. His goal midway through the second period arrived after a typical run forward and a well-timed give-and-go with Diarmuid O’Connor. 

Ruane stepped inside Barry to slot home his second three-pointer of the year, this one another cool finish into the bottom corner. He scored 2-4 from play in his debut league campaign and will only get better over the coming months. 

Mayo lorded the restart battle too, winning seven of the 11 contested kick-outs between midfielders. O’Shea caught two marks, including a spectacular fetch in the 42nd minute as Mayo were beginning to turn the screw.

O’Shea was booked for his involvement in an off-the-ball tussle with his marker Barry moments before he soared to collect Robbie Hennelly’s kick-out, setting up a scoring opportunity for Doherty in one of the moves of the game. 


(Click here if you can’t view the clip above) 

Kerry twice cleared the left-corner back spot for Barry to take a short kick-out from Ryan, but apart from that ploy Kingdom struggled on their own long restarts.

With O’Shea playing in his best position and forming a formidable alliance with Ruane at centre-field, Mayo have a solid platform to build attacks and protect their defence.

There are plenty of battles to come, but Sunday afternoon proved Mayo are on the right track under Horan and remain the main pretenders to Dublin’s throne. 

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